The Anchorage Daily News asked candidates for the Alaska Legislature in Southcentral Alaska to answer a series of issue questions. Read all of them here.
Harriet A. Drummond | Democrat | Occupation: Legislator; graphic designer | Age: 68 | Residence: Anchorage | Relevant experience or prior offices held: Anchorage School Board 1994-2003; Anchorage Municipal Assembly 2008-2013; Alaska State House District 16 2013-2014 Alaska State House District 18 2015-2020 (D16 changed number to D19 after redistricting); Ran my own graphic design business starting in 1981 after working for Alaska architects and engineers as well as VECO. | HarrietDrummond.com
Why are you running for office?
I am running for re-election to the State House seat I won in 2012 because I enjoy serving the public, my constituents appreciate the work I have been doing, and many have asked me to continue to serve. I got a great statewide look at how public education serves Alaskans during my three terms on the Anchorage School Board and will continue to focus on education.
The coronavirus pandemic has changed life in Alaska. In addition to ongoing public health threats, the state has seen serious, long-term impacts to its economy and jobs, education system, tourism and the ability for residents to travel. Have state leaders handled the pandemic effectively? Explain.
We had a good start “flattening the curve” in the spring, but the refusal of the Governor to mandate masks and KEEP the curve flat has meant that school has been almost impossible to start in person, hospitality businesses have suffered severely, and local governments have had a hard time without the support of the state. I am not sure that federal aid has reached all the individuals and businesses that need assistance through the RPLs approved by the legislature at the request of the governor. I am impressed with how Mayor Berkowitz is handling the pandemic in Anchorage.
What role should the state play in repairing economic damage in Alaska from the pandemic?
As more federal aid comes in, and I am pretty certain it will, the legislature should play a more active role in making sure the aid gets to where it is needed. Communities around the state have received federal aid through the state but it’s pretty much limited to COVID-19 impacts on local governments and schools. Some communities are passing through funds to assist renters and homeowners. Child care needs to be recognized as an essential service that allows Alaskans to work knowing that their children are safe. We were short thousands of child care spots for children before the pandemic and things have not improved. The legislature hasn’t even passed a capital budget this year, so there are fewer construction jobs. We should reconvene and pass a capital budget immediately for 2021′s construction season to benefit since it’s too late for 2020′s.
Describe two pressing issues facing your district. What do you plan to do about them if elected?
Midtown is home to some of the busiest roads in the state: the Seward Highway, Tudor Road, Minnesota Drive, A and C Streets couplet, Northern Lights and Benson Boulevards couplet. The intersection at the Seward Highway and 36th Avenue is one of the busiest and most dangerous in the state. We suffer from traffic congestion and pedestrian and bike injuries and fatalities because our roads do not accommodate all users safely. DOTPF’s Midtown Congestion Relief Project is underway and I am participating as a representative of the affected communities to make sure that the major changes proposed serve our neighborhoods and businesses well.
Homelessness has a huge and visible impact on my area too. I am supportive of the Municipality’s effort to provide services and housing to the homeless in our district. There simply isn’t much undeveloped space in the Anchorage bowl to allow services and housing to be built or adapted and so existing structures need to be called into service.
How would you create a sustainable state operating budget that doesn’t borrow annually from the state’s savings to meet shortfalls?
New broad based revenues are sorely needed. I voted YES to income tax in House Bill 115 in 2017 with credits for PFDs so Alaskans paid less. It would have collected income tax from tens of thousands of Outside workers that travel here to make their livings and pay taxes in their homes states while Alaska provides the infrastructure that allows them to make their livings here.
Over 100 Alaska communities already have local sales taxes. A state sales tax over those would be difficult and stress local budgets. Out of state workers would contribute very little in sales tax on their way in and out of Alaska for food or beverages in the airports.
Motor fuel taxes in Alaska are the lowest in the country. A proposed increase would make ours the second lowest in the country. We need to pass Ballot Measure 1 to assure Alaska gets its fair share of oil revenues. SB21 has failed to live up to its promises of jobs and oil production. We have missed out on a lot of revenue in the last six years.
What is your vision for the Alaska Permanent Fund and the future of the dividend program?
The Permanent Fund is already providing funds to run state government and our schools through Senate Bill 26 in 2018. It provides for sustainable withdrawals from the Permanent Fund’s Earnings Reserve. If we institute broad based revenues as HB115 would have provided, the PFD program would be secure, if smaller, for a period of time. A “Permanent Fund Only” plan, that cuts PFDs without asking business and industry to participate, is unfair to Alaskans. Our savings are already drained and without broad based revenues we will have no choice but to cut essential public services.
The state is projecting a $2.3 billion deficit for the next fiscal year if the Permanent Fund dividend is paid using the traditional formula in state law. If no dividend is paid, the deficit would be about $300 million. Do you support cutting services to pay a larger dividend? If so, what services would you cut first?
We have cut Alaska’s state budget drastically and continually over the last several years. There is nothing left to cut but essential services. I do not support cutting essential services. I will be voting YES on Ballot Measure 1 to get Alaskans our fair share of oil revenues and this would immediately fill that budget gap.
I have been very clear that our young people should not be denied an education. Our youngest Alaskans should not suffer ever-larger class sizes and the loss of valued teachers because the adults in the legislature can’t make a decision about necessary new revenues. Alaskans also deserve properly funded public safety, health services and correctional services.
The legislature hasn’t even passed a capital budget this year, so there are fewer construction jobs. We should reconvene and pass a capital budget immediately for 2021′s construction season to benefit since it’s too late for 2020′s.
What are your ideas to improve Alaska’s elementary and high schools?
We have creative educators who have worked hard all summer to educate our kids under very difficult circumstances created by COVID-19. But I have real concerns about how our youngest kids can handle online learning, and huge stresses are being placed on families to supervise online learning at home. I am glad that the Anchorage School District will be returning our youngest students to school in person first as they have the highest need for personal contact and social-emotional learning that doesn’t happen in online learning.
I have been working to increase pre-school throughout the state so that children arrive at kindergarten prepared to learn. The governor cut $4.5 million in pre-K funding from this year’s budget that would have helped many more kids perform better throughout their K-12 careers.
School funding has been flat for years, which means cuts at the local level as expenses increase. We must increase funding to schools in order to improve learning at all levels.
What is your vision for the University of Alaska?
The legislature determines the UA budget funding level and the UA Board of Regents works out how to spend it. The cuts agreed to by the governor and the Regents are unfortunately creating a brain drain of educators and researchers that Alaska needs to retain in order attract the students to fill the jobs that our state requires to function. Asking UA to consolidate campuses is like asking universities in Oklahoma, Georgia and Wisconsin to consolidate, considering the huge size of our state. In addition UA is the land grant college for Alaska and needs to continue its commitment to agriculture and the environment and our renewable resources.
Our university district in Anchorage, in close proximity to three of the state’s largest hospitals, could be the focus of a lively biomedical research industry. There is already a small center for renewable energy research and development that should be encouraged and supported as the need is huge statewide.
What would you do to reduce high rates of sexual assault and domestic violence in Alaska?
I’d like to see Alaska with NO sexual assault or domestic violence! Children need to be taught to report inappropriate touching to trusted adults. I supported the Alaska Safe Children’s Act, which includes Erin’s Law and funding so schools can teach it, and Bree’s Law, which teaches teens about healthy relationships. Until we drive those rates down, shelters for abused women need to be well supported. I know there are concerns among required reporters like teachers that with kids at home instead of in school, because of COVID-19, there is child abuse and sexual assault going unreported. All types of crimes are decreasing BECAUSE more people are at home because of COVID-19, at least according to the Anchorage Police Department as reported to Community Council meetings earlier this month, as well as because Anchorage has been funding new police positions.
In addition Alaska’s huge backlog of rape kits must be processed so sex offenders can be identified and jailed.
What are your ideas to stabilize, grow and diversify Alaska’s economy?
COVID-19 must be dealt with in the toughest way possible. Hoping it will “magically disappear” does not substitute for science and research-based solutions. Alaska’s health care system cannot handle pandemic overload even though it’s been a growth sector over the last few years, due to Medicaid expansion by Governor Walker.
People come to Alaska for its beauty and clean environment, but they stay to work and play and raise families, and they expect good schools as well as parks and trails, vibrant neighborhoods, decent business infrastructure, and a high level of public safety. In order to keep people and businesses here, we must properly fund schools and the university, we need to continue to build infrastructure and maintain what we have.
Alaska only produces about five percent of the food we eat. I think that increased this summer season but needs to grow more, to support farming families as well as cut the carbon footprint of shipping fresh food thousands of miles.
What’s your position on the proposed Pebble mine?
I do not support the Pebble Mine. I support the people of Bristol Bay who rely on the largest wild salmon fishery in the world and have done so for millennia. It’s my understanding that there is plenty of copper available now and into the near future so this huge mine in a sensitive location is unnecessary.
What other important issue would you like to discuss with voters?
I urge you to vote absentee by mail this fall. Apply online at AbsenteeBallotApplication.alaska.gov. Ballots will start mailing to you October 9. Return your ballots as soon as you can and check the status of your ballot at myvoterinformation.alaska.gov
I plan to continue to push for permanent voting by mail statewide. It has been successful and secure in the Municipality of Anchorage since 2017. Mail in voting in Anchorage has increased voter turnout and the voters have approved nearly every bond issue as they have learned our city’s needs and approved paying for them. The legislature urged the Lieutenant Governor to move to vote by mail in our final legislation passed in May but he chose not to. In fact, the Governor declined to accept several million dollars from the Federal CARES Act funds to assist in voting by mail, so there wasn’t any excuse.
If you are NOT registered to vote, the deadline is October 4, 2020. Go to www.elections.alaska.gov/Core/voterregistration.php