Candidates for Haines Assembly and mayor pitched themselves as peacemakers ready to heal division in the community at a forum Wednesday. But they expressed divergent views on issues like protection for the Chilkat River and police service expansion.
Haines’s recent recall election actually seems to have motivated political involvement.
The first forum leading up the Oct. 3 election was hosted by Upper Valley residents at the former Mosquito Lake School.
“So one of my fears is that now that recall is over, that some folks are going to look at their neighbors and friends…they’re gonna be ‘oh that was a pro recall person, oh that was a con recall person,'” said Chuck Mitman. He asked the candidates how they would work to ease the divisiveness.
“I moved here to get away from politics and then I saw the division happening and I had to do something,” said Sean Maidy, an assembly candidate.
Maidy and the other candidates voiced a general desire to bring people together and move past the recall.
Like Maidy, Joanie Wagner is a political newcomer. She is running for mayor.
“I want to be the type of mayor that collaborates with everyone,” Wagner said. “Not someone who points fingers and holds grudges.”
Everyone agreed it was time to move on from the recall. But when it came to other issues facing the borough, opinion was more divided.
For example, the question of whether the state should implement more stringent protections for the Chilkat River. The village of Klukwan applied to the state for what’s known as ‘Tier 3’ water status. It would tighten regulation on discharges into the river which could degrade water quality.
“I think the Tier 3 application is extreme,” said incumbent mayor Jan Hill. “And I think that people don’t understand some of the downsides of it.”
Assembly candidates Diana Lapham and Brenda Josephson are also against Tier 3 protection for the Chilkat River.
“I am concerned with the far-reaching impacts it would have on this community and everyone that uses the Chilkat for fishing, hunting, recreating,” Lapham said.
Mayoral challenger Wagner supports Tier 3 designation, as do assembly hopefuls Michael Fullerton and Maidy.
“Our water is our life,” Maidy said.
Fullerton was unique in his response to a question about police service. Haines has agonized over what to do following the state’s decision to close the local trooper post. One option is to expand the police department’s jurisdiction borough-wide. That idea has been unpopular with outer borough residents, like those at the Mosquito Lake forum. Fullerton said he knows it’s controversial, but he thinks it’s the right thing to do.
“You are by virtue of living out here, independent people that will very rarely call 911,” Fullerton said. “But when that happens, you need things to start working for you and you need it to happen right now. So I’m a strong proponent and I think it’s irresponsible to put the brakes on that.”
Unlike Fullerton, the other candidates favor taking a step back on this particular issue. They said the borough should not expand police service until more input is gathered and research is done. Josephson opposes broadening police service because she said the initiative has been government-driven.
“There’s no outcry from the people asking for this,” Josephson said. “And what I want is a responsive government. I want a strong public process where people are given a right to speak. And I want decisions to be made after input from the people is considered.”
The candidates will continue to address local issues at two more forums. KHNS and the Chilkat Valley News are hosting one on Monday, Sept. 18 at 5:30 p.m. in the Chilkat Center. For that event, you can send questions for candidates to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Haines Chamber of Commerce is planning a forum on Sept. 26.
Assembly contenders Stephanie Scott and Andrew Gray were absent from the Mosquito Lake event.
Listen to the full forum below. (About a minute of Diana Lapham’s introduction is missing due to technical problems.)