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.
Andy Holleman | Non-affiliated | Occupation: Retired Educator and mechanic | Age: 66 | Residence: Anchorage | Relevant experience or prior offices held: I worked in the Anchorage’s School District for 20 years. I taught science teacher, business education, technology classes, and was a building level technology coordinator. I served four years as President of the Anchorage Education Association and over the last 4 years, I have served on the Anchorage School Board, fighting for our students and families. | VoteAndyAk.com
Why are you running for office?
During my time working as an educator, we faced annual uncertainty about what we would be able to provide to our students the next year. This level of instability impacts our education system, harms our economy, and it disincentivizes investment and business growth in Alaska.
I am running for the Alaska State Senate because the politicians we have been electing have been unable to create an affordable and sustainable budget that we can count on. We have seen deficit spending instead of making tough decisions. These politicians have spent down our savings account while jeopardizing the services we all depend on.
This is something that must be addressed this coming session. I have the experience of passing a balanced budget every year for the Anchorage School District even when faced with earthquakes, coronavirus shutdowns, and sporadic funding from the state level. It’s time for the legislature to stop worrying about the parties and start worrying about Alaska.
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.
Our state acted early and swiftly when it came to addressing the health and safety concerns of the coronavirus pandemic and I give credit to Dr. Anne Zink as well as the Governor for their actions early on. As a result, Alaska has been one of the safest places in the country to be over the summer. But over the past few months, the leadership at the state level has faltered some and we are starting to see the virus spread in areas with less people that have not been hotspots before. We need a more unified voice on how we beat this epidemic back.
An area where state leaders have really failed is in supporting our small businesses who have been hit hardest by the pandemic and shutdowns. The legislature dedicated $210 million in federal CARES Act funds to help our small businesses and as of 1 month ago, nearly 90% still was in the state’s pockets. This is unacceptable and an area where our current senator has remained silent.
What role should the state play in repairing economic damage in Alaska from the pandemic?
The state must take an active role in helping to repair the economic damage from the coronavirus pandemic. This should start by dispersing the $210 million in federal funds that were dedicated to support small businesses by the State Legislature. Small businesses are the backbone of our state and local economy and have been one of the most hard hit sectors of our economy. When the legislature realized mistakes were made in appropriating CARES Act money, they should have been right back in Juneau fixing it.
Beyond that, we need a balanced and stable budget where businesses know what they can count on so they are able to invest in Alaska. The state should also look at new capital projects to help rebuild our roads and infrastructure while creating good Alaskans jobs.
Describe two pressing issues facing your district. What do you plan to do about them if elected?
I have been out knocking on the doors of our friends and neighbors in Senate District M. Our community wants decent services delivered in an efficient fashion. We need good schools, safe communities, and roads that are in good shape and plowed on time so we can safely get to work. This starts by passing a sustainable and reliable budget based on the needs of our community and not the price of a barrel of oil. We understand good services come with a cost.
Another area that has hit property owners in our community especially hard has been the state “cutting spending” by shifting costs down to local property owners, which we saw last session. The state has done this with services, as well as promises to cover a share of school bonds.
This needs to be reversed.
How would you create a sustainable state operating budget that doesn’t borrow annually from the state’s savings to meet shortfalls?
We are going to have to look at everything and keep all options on the table. We should look at new forms of revenue that capture funds from seasonal workers who come to Alaska, profit off of our resources, and take their income home with them, as well as tourists. We are going to need to pass a lean budget that is based on what Alaskans want and are willing to pay for. Through a budget like this, we can begin to pay our own way again and create a stable predictable future that encourages investment and opportunity.
What is your vision for the Alaska Permanent Fund and the future of the dividend program?
We must protect the Alaska Permanent Fund in perpetuity for future generations. The PFD lifts up tens of thousands of Alaskans out of poverty and many Alaskans, especially our seniors and families, depend on this annual dividend. We have to make sure we have schools and public safety but I will fight to make sure that the PFD is around today and for future generations.
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 must pay a dividend but it will require a lean budget and some adjustments to revenue. We are going to need to have to look at Health and Social Services and Education for significant dollars, but these reductions should come with a plan to adjust their budgets for inflation in the coming years. All departments need to be able to manage their budgets with an eye towards predictability rather than repeatedly cutting programs.
Contracts to out-of-state organizations would be the first place I would look for savings.
What are your ideas to improve Alaska’s elementary and high schools?
There is a lot we can do to improve our education system. It starts with a stable education budget where teachers are not pink slipped each year and our students can count on having reasonably sized classrooms and skilled teachers with a passion for education. Not every student has the same career path and we need to look at all areas of student achievement, and not simply at how many students are “proficient/not proficient” at one grade level. We need schools with a broad assortment of electives that engage students as well as vocational classes that prepare students for the workplace.
What is your vision for the University of Alaska?
We’ve tried to build a university by spending a lot of money. That’s necessary starting out, but along the way, our university system needs to form stronger relationships with students, local businesses, and other stakeholders that benefit from a high-quality university system. This has been successful in other states and can lead to the kind of broad revenue support that crates endowments and investment.
In addition, we should be taking full advantage of federal and private research dollars, especially in the areas of resource development and construction in the Arctic. These steps will better insulate the university from changes in state revenue and politics while creating a more stable and effective university system.
What would you do to reduce high rates of sexual assault and domestic violence in Alaska?
I will work to expand public safety resources in Alaska to make sure our communities are kept safe as well as programs to offer individuals safe haven from abusive relationships. We also need to address the root causes of crime, addiction and mental illness with a holistic approach aimed at rehabilitation so people can get back to being productive members of our society. We have to improve public safety in rural Alaska to truly change the state. In collaboration with tribes and native corporations, we should work to expand the Village Public Safety Officer programs by increasing the coverage of these officers as well as their authority to keep communities safe.
What are your ideas to stabilize, grow and diversify Alaska’s economy?
Step one is getting Alaskans back to work and supporting our struggling small businesses. We can jump start our economy by getting the federal CARES Act funds the state is sitting on out and into the hands of Alaska’s workers and small businesses. In order to stabilize our economy and bring in new industry, we have to have a budget that is consistent year after year that meets the needs of Alaskans and that businesses can count on when making investment decisions. Alaska is facing record high-unemployment and we should be making sure Alaskans are filling jobs whenever possible. We should encourage this in the private sector but the state should not be outsourcing work while we have skilled and experienced Alaskans to fill those roles.
What’s your position on the proposed Pebble mine?
I support responsible resource development but the people of Alaska voted overwhelmingly against Pebble Mine. There remain serious concerns regarding the potential risks such a project would pose to our fisheries, and until we are certain that this resource can be protected, we should look at other development projects.
What other important issue would you like to discuss with voters?
Alaska is facing unprecedented obstacles and we need real leadership now more than ever. Our next legislature will be faced with difficult decisions that will impact our state for decades to come. The senators and representatives we have been sending to Juneau have yet to find real and lasting solutions to the most pressing issues we face and have instead continued to kick the can down the road at the expense of the people of Alaska.
My only interest as a senator will be in doing what is right for our community and state. I was a registered Republican for 43 years but party politics are strangling Congress and our legislature. I am not backed by any party and am on the ballot thanks to over 300 of our friends and neighbors who signed my nominating petition. Unlike our current senator, my vote will not be swayed by party bosses or special interests and I will always vote in the interests of our community. Please reach out anytime, 907-301-7004 and at VoteAndyAk@gmail.com.