Three candidates are vying to represent the newly-created State House District 33: Independent Kyle Johansen, Democrat Matt Olsen and Republican Peggy Wilson.
After the state amended the boundary lines earlier this year, the new region combines Districts 1 and 2 and now includes Wrangell, Ketchikan, and Coffman Cove, among others. Incumbent Kyle Johansen has been representing District 1 while Peggy Wilson has been serving District 2. Matt Olsen is the newcomer in the Republican stronghold. He said education funding, the availability of low-cost power and a focus on the local economy are key aspects to his campaign.
“Here in Wrangell you have fishing and you have the shipyard and everything’s still cyclical. It’s very important for us to be able to grow our economy so we get rid of the huge peaks and valleys. We need to look at timber. Timber is not dead, but it’s very minimal, and we need to make sure that the state is providing an avenue and facilitating the growth of that economy again because there are logs being sawn,” he said.
Wilson said she also is focused on jobs and the economy in Wrangell.
“Overall, what most people tell me is the fact that they just want to make a living. Probably the biggest thing is to make sure that we continue with our infrastructure development so the infrastructure’s there so that people can make a living and industry will come. In Wrangell we’re very fortunate because we have low-cost energy and we also have a lot of the infrastructure in place that other, auxiliary businesses are popping up because of that,” she said.
Johansen said he would like to provide investment for basic infrastructure including water and sewer lines to attract more private industry to the area.
“You have an asset down at the old saw mill that I think if we did the proper things, support through government, through the basic needs, we could get something out there and going. We’ve got all of the ship repair that’s happening now. In Wrangell that’s really getting some momentum. I think there are things that we can do as a state to support that with basic infrastructure. The drive-down ramp sorts of things; the easy access to energy, water, planning,” he said.
Wilson said she has worked to keep the state’s capital budget high while she’s been representing the district. That’s a trend Wilson says she wants to continue in order to provide a steady economic base.
“Because the Lower 48, we’ve seen how the economy has just crashed in the Lower 48. We haven’t seen that so much in Alaska, and the reason is we’ve tried to keep our capital budget up so that there’s work going on and there’s jobs available for people in the towns,” she said.
Olsen said if elected, he will strive to be an advocate for Southeast.
“Anchorage controls a lot of the funds. Well, you have to build the relationships with those people in Anchorage. And you have to sit there and say ‘here’s Southeast, Southeast needs this to thrive, and this is why you need Southeast.’ And you build on that, and then you make a priority. My job is to voice my opinion, be strong-willed, be strong-minded, and stand up for Southeast. And that’s what I’ll be doing,” Olsen said.
Johansen said if he represents the district, he will take his cues directly from residents when it comes to fostering economic development.
“Wrangell is a very independent and unique community of its own, and they have, as a group, their own vision of what needs to happen. So, I’m not going to go in there and say I think this needs to happen and that needs to happen. That’s going to come from the people,” Johansen said.
He said his years working for Southeast Alaskans in the statehouse as a staff member, lobbyist and lawmaker, and his fiscally conservative voting record make him the strongest candidate in the race.
“I think that’s important to people from Wrangell. It’s a very fiscally conservative town and we are coming to a point in our state where you need to have people who are not afraid to tighten the state budget and tighten our belts. And not look for businesses and individuals to start taking money out of their pocket and giving it to the state,” he said.
Wilson said being in the majority party, her sense of fairness and her position as majority whip make her the best option for voters.
“I’ve got more seniority than any of the other candidates do. I’m in leadership. None of the other candidates are in leadership. And this really makes a difference because I have a part in helping drive the ship. And a big thing for me is to make sure the rural areas get their fair share. I can help make sure that happens in leadership,” she said.
Olsen pointed out his experience in politics at the local level and his life-long residence in Ketchikan are what will make him a good lawmaker for the district.
“Starting in 2006 I was on school board for three years. And since 2009, I’ve been on city council. That background is unique to me. Neither person running in this race has a background at the local level where they have been ingrained in the community as I have. And especially now that I’m teaching, I’m teaching kids that their parents are my classmates. And that’s pretty unique. But that background allows me to see, and hear, and talk with people, and I think that I have a greater understanding of what the community needs because of that background,” he said.
Voters will have a chance to hear more from the candidates during a live forum Tuesday Oct. 23. KSTK’s coverage will start at 7 p.m. Listeners can call in toll-free 1-800-557-5723 or email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.