Politicians gather in auditorium to discuss Alaskan issues

Candidate for House Dictrict 5, David Watts, explains his views on natural gas use to a small audience in the Schaible Auditorium on Thursday, Sep 27. This was part of a series of candidate forums hosted by ASUAF. Erin McGroarty/ Sun Star

Lakeidra Chavis/ Sun Star Reporter
October 2, 2012

Politicians, pizza and tears were all present during last Thursday night’s forum featuring four Alaska House and Senate candidates. The first-term politicians debated in the Schaible Auditorium at 6 p.m. ASUAF hosted the two hour long event, where issues ranging from the Alaska Student Loan Forgiveness Act to budget cuts were discussed.

Approximately 40 people settled into the upper half of the auditorium to watch the debate. Rep. Click Bishop and Dem. Anne Sudkamp are running for Senate District C, and Rep. Pete Higgins and Dem. David Watts are running for House District 5.

The moderator asked the candidates seven questions. Each candidate had one minute to answer the question. The issue that would directly benefit students was the possible reduction in student loan interest rates.

Candidates were asked if they supported house bill 272 “Student Loan Interest Reductions.” The bill would reduce the interest on post secondary education loans for students who chose to use their degree in Alaska. All of the candidates were in favor of the bill. Sudkpam was particularly favorable of the bill since her primary focus is increasing the post secondary education graduation rate in Alaska. Sudkamp and Watts were both recipients of a similar program when they attended college.

The Student Loan Forgiveness Act reduced student loans by fifty percent for students who chose to stay in Alaska. The program ended in 1980 but there is a possibility that a similar program might be available for students in the future. “We have the money, we certainly do. So we there’s no reason why we can’t,” Higgins said.

The canidates’ opinions greatly differed on one topic, House Bill 110. If passed, the Alaska’s Clear and Equitable Share proposal would decrease the percentage rate oil companies are taxed in an attempt to increase oil production. If oil production is increased, the state will make a bigger profit. To revise the percentage rate for oil companies, the current ACES proposals would need revision as well.

Sudkamp and Watts were against the bill. “I do not support a change in tax structure without much analysis,” Sudkamp said. Watts disagreed with the bill, saying that the Alaska legislature had met with BP, Conoco and Exxon Executives, who said that the tax decrease would not increase capital expenditures. Watts was a strong advocate for ACES. “We now currently have the highest level of employment on the north slope since 1968 when the whole thing began,” Watts said. “It doesn’t need to be fixed.”

Higgins disagreed with Watts’ assertion. “There seems to be two sides to the story,” Higgins said. “You look at the oil and we’ve been declining every year. We haven’t been putting oil in that pipeline, it’s been going down. So does ACES work? Or do we just raise the taxes to make up for it?”

Bishop’s position was unclear during the forum. However, Bishop said that Alaska hire was an important goal. “As your Senator, if I’m elected and going to Juneau, I will advocate for more Alaska hire, more guarantees for Alaska businesses to reap the benefits of that proposed tax change,” Bishop said.

Each candidate had  the opportunity to give a closing remark. Bishop began to cry during his speech when mentioning his grandmother, who passed away in late August. “She told me  if you’re doing your job, other people will ring your bell for you.”

After the forum the candidates spoke with students and enjoyed pizza.

“The answers came out a little differently than what I heard last week,” said Ashley Strange, a 24-year-old broadcast journalism student and the moderator for the forums. “I heard a lot more of people trying to connect with the audience.”

ASUAF will host the last candidate forum on Monday, Oct. 1 in the Schaible Auditorium. The forum will feature District B Senate candidates Sen. Joe Paskvan and Pete Kelly and House District 4 candidates David Pruhs and Scott Kawasaki. The general election will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 6.

You can do anything you want, just get a plan and get it done,” Higgins said at the beginning of the forum. “The way our economy is going in the state right now, you just can’t afford to say here much longer, nobody can. We have to turn this state around.”

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