ASUAF hosts debate for state House and Senate candidates

Daniel Leahy/Sun Star Reporter
September 25, 2012

Four candidates vying to represent a large swath of Fairbanks in the state legislature squared off for a debate Friday. The candidate forum was the first in a series of three being hosted by ASUAF at the Schaible Auditorium. Candidates answered successive questions posed by a moderator for nearly an hour and fifteen minutes. The forum covered topics ranging from student aid to energy costs to the role of government. Afterwards, constituents had an opportunity to speak with candidates face-to-face.

Sen. Joe Thomas, Sen. John Coghill, Rep. Tammie Wilson and Rep. Bob Miller via Audio conference participated in a debate on Friday. The debate was over energy, budget, education and other topics that concern Alaskans. Sept. 17, 2012. Allen Obermiller/Sun Star

UAF student Ashleigh Strange moderated the debate. Strange asked seven pre-written questions and read several which were submitted by audience. Each candidate was given one minute to state his or her position on a particular issue before the moderator declared the next person’s turn.

The debate featured Republican Rep. Tammie Wilson of North Pole and Democratic Rep. Bob Miller of Fairbanks, running for state House, together with Republican Sen. John Coghill Jr. and Democratic Sen. Joe Thomas, both of Fairbanks, who are running for state Senate.

Due to redistricting, nearly all members of the state House and Senate are up for re-election this year. The one exception is Democratic Sen. Dennis Egan of Juneau, whose district was only slightly altered. The new map is forcing some current Senators and Representatives to run against one another to remain in power.

Incumbents Reps. Wilson and Miller are competing for the newly-minted House District 2. Comprising a large swath of the Fairbanks area, District 2 will include Farmers Loop, Fox, Pleasant Valley and Two Rivers along with portions of Badger, College, Goldstream and Steele Creek.

Incumbent Sens. Coghill and Thomas are running to represent Senate District A. Containing House District 2, District A will also represent Eielson Air Force Base, Moose Creek, North Pole, Salcha and the entirety of Badger.

During introductions, Coghill spoke of his military service in Vietnam. Thomas used the opportunity to emphasize his close affiliation with UAF, having served on the Board of Regents.

“The University has always been near and dear to my heart,” Thomas said.

Wilson’s introductory remarks were about her story of being a mother of four and falling in love with Alaska.

Miller, who participated via teleconferencing, talked about his work in the telecommunications industry. His motivation to run for office is “how much of a corporate colony Alaska continues to be.” He argued that Alaska’s resources should only be developed in a manner consistent with state interests.

In total,  five of the questions directly concerned UAF. The candidates were asked if they would support the $200 million plan to replace the UAF Atkinson Heat and Power Plant. Miller and Thomas said they support the plan, while Wilson advocated for an even larger plant that would provide heat for the Fairbanks area. Coghill, while generally supportive of the plan, expressed some reservations related to the scale of the project and the amount of political capital that passing it would require.

“Anytime $100 million or more lands in this university, there’s gonna be also a bargaining thing for the rest of Alaska,” Coghill said.

The candidates were generally supportive of providing incentives for Alaskan students to remain in-state for their postsecondary education and to return to the state if they choose to study elsewhere. However, Wilson and Coghill declined to endorse HB 272, which would provide residents with low-interest student loans. Thomson spoke in support of the bill at length, while Miller supported it by just saying “hell yes.”

One of the strongest disagreements regarded merit-based and need-based scholarships. The Alaska Performance Scholarship program, conceived as a scholarship for high-achievers, currently devotes one-third of its funding to low-income students. Thomson agrees with the 2-to-1 ratio. Coghill disagreed, saying he instead favors raising standards and a devoting a larger proportion of funding to merit-based scholarships. Wilson agreed with Coghill and insisted that devote our focus to improving elementary education. Miller didn’t state a preference for any variety of scholarship or funding ratio. Instead, we should do whatever is necessary to “allow the maximum number of Alaskan students to actually get into the University,” Miller said.

The next forum hosted by ASUAF will take place on Sept. 27 at 6 p.m. in the Schaible Auditorium. Senate District C candidates Click Bishop and Anne Sudkamp will debate alongside House District 5 candidates Pete Higgins and David Watts. The third forum, taking place on Oct. 1 at 6 p.m, will feature Senate District B candidates Sen. Joe Paskvan and Pete Kelly and House District 4 candidates David Pruhs and Scott Kawasaki.

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