Both candidates for House District 33 on next week’s general election ballot are new to campaigning.
Democratic incumbent Sam Kito III was appointed to the seat after longtime Juneau Rep. Beth Kerttula resigned at the beginning of the last legislative session. It’s the first time Kito has held political office.
Republican Peter Dukowitz is also political newcomer.
They’re competing to represent a district that, thanks to redistricting, is new as well.
Kito and Dukowitz agree on one thing – the newly redrawn House District 33 is a challenging makeup of part of the capital city and the communities of Skagway, Haines, Klukwan and Gustavus.
But the candidates have different ideas of how the northern Southeast district can thrive in the current economic climate of reduced revenues.
They also don’t agree on the biggest proposed capital project for the district – the Juneau Access Road Project. For Kito, the nearly $600 million road project that includes a new ferry terminal and ferries, is too pricey and does not include maintenance costs. He says even though the project would use federal funds, those are funds that could be directed to other transportation needs in Southeast or the rest of the state.
“My philosophy at this point given our current fiscal situation is we really do need to look at making sure we can maintain the infrastructure we have,” Kito says, adding that he would rather work to improve and maintain ferry service, which he calls a vital piece of Southeast’s economy.
Dukowitz is pro-road. He says the project has benefits for all the communities involved and it provides a savings to the state in terms of subsidizing the ferry system.
“We’re looking at a billion dollar ferry system or a half million dollar road,” Dukowitz says. “In that respect it’s a long term solution. The second aspect of that is, I think it will benefit all communities – bringing in $500 million dollars, construction jobs, easier access – everybody is going to benefit from this road.”
Kito supports increasing the minimum wage, but Dukowitz opposes it, calling the proposition a tax on businesses.
Dukowitz affirmed his opposition to the Pebble Mine project. He says he supports reasonable resource development if environmental protections can be guaranteed and a community supports the endeavor.
“I’m pro-development, but I’m more pro-environment.” Dukowitz says.
Kito, 50, was born in Anchorage, lived in Fairbanks and has worked on transportation projects throughout the state. He’s been in Juneau for 18 years and also worked as a legislative lobbyist. He’s currently Southeast’s only Alaska Native legislator.
He says he became involved in state politics because as a single father, he wants to work to adequately fund education and stabilize the state’s economic health, making sure his daughter and Alaska youth have the opportunity to live and work in Alaska. Kito says that kind of future is less assured with a decline in revenue.
“I still think there’s quite a bit of work to do especially in the next five years as we see revenues declining more and more and we don’t have a gasline on the horizon,” Kito says. “I mean it’s 10 years out, it’s still quite a ways. We’re going to have to build up the workforce for the gas line. We’re going to have to do a lot of work to make sure it happens when it needs to happen.”
Dukowitz, 45, has lived in Alaska for 36 years. He served in the Alaska Army National Guard and works for Alaska Electric Light & Power.
Dukowitz says he originally ran for office to advocate for education funding and insurance reform. Those concerns have evolved somewhat during his campaign, he says, having talked to voters who are mainly concerned with the state budget and economy. He says education funding needs to be the number one priority for the state.
“As a state, as a people, there are certain priorities that we absolutely need to have funded and then everything else can be scaled or trickled down. I want to get rid of this constant fighting we’re doing and I do believe that a 100 percent state funding should be required.”
Kito and Dukowitz face off to represent House District 33 in the Nov. 4 general election.