In the six-way race for two Haines Borough Assembly seats, there are two clear winners. They include an author and the publisher of the local newspaper. Heather Lende and Tom Morphet were the top vote-getters in preliminary results from Tuesday’s municipal election.
Voters had lots of choices this election. Six candidates with a wide range of views and experience put their names in the running for assembly.
One issue that seemed to spark more interest both among candidates and among voters is the $30-million-dollar-plus small boat harbor expansion. The project is meant to provide better facilities for the town’s fishing industry.
“It’s very vital to our survival as a town,” said resident Connie Allen outside the polls Tuesday.
But many residents have spoken out against components of the project, like a steel wave barrier and an expanded parking lot. The harbor project was on Jim Wilson’s mind when he voted Tuesday afternoon.
“The way that they want to extend the breakwater might not be the best alternative and likewise, if I go to Lookout Park, I want to look out over Lynn Canal, not a parking lot,” Wilson said.
Based on who was elected, those who have reservations about the harbor expansion seem to have come to the polls in stronger numbers.
“I would like us get the harbor issue somehow to the people on a ballot,” said Heather Lende shortly after she found out she earned the most votes (483) Tuesday night. “I think it was pretty clear that that was, especially with both Tom and I being elected, that that’s something it looks like people would like.”
Tom Morphet garnered the second most votes, at 423. During his campaign, he proposed the borough hold an advisory vote to gauge public support of the harbor project’s major components. That way, Morphet says, the assembly can draw on that input as decisions about the project come up.
“I’d like to see the numbers,” Morphet said. “I’d like to see where the community lines up.”
Some harbor proponents have said the time has come and gone for people to give input. The ports and harbors committee, which spearheaded the expansion, had dozens of open meetings. Morphet thinks the assembly should learn from this experience and formalize in borough code a better public process for this type of major projects.
“You know, I think that when you go to spend that much public money, it’s the obligation of the leadership to go to public and say ‘is this what you want?’ And I think that’s what didn’t happen here and that’s how we got kind of wrapped around the axle on it.”
Morphet has worked as a reporter and editor at the Haines newspaper, the Chilkat Valley News, for decades. He took over ownership of the paper a few years ago. Now, he’ll go from scrutinizing the assembly to serving on it.
“Yeah, it’s going to be an education for me, being on the other side of the questions and the other side of the criticism,” Morphet said. “I mean, I’ve been outspoken in my editorials on what happens at the borough. So now it’ll be a challenge to see if I can make those changes.”
Morphet hopes to sell the paper to a local buyer as soon as possible.
Both Morphet and Lende complimented the other candidates — Ryan Cook, Leonard Dubber, Judy Erekson and Diana Lapham — for the debate and ideas they contributed. Lende specifically thanked Assemblywoman Lapham, whose bid for re-election fell short Tuesday with 363 votes.
“She’s gone to a lot, a lot of meetings and worked really hard,” Lende said. “And I think she deserves a lot of thanks from us for her service.”
As for Lapham, she says just because she lost her assembly seat doesn’t mean she’s going away. She says Lende and Morphet’s election changes the balance on the assembly.
“We have a somewhat of a liberal assembly,” Lapham said. “I don’t feel there’s a true representation on the assembly for the working man, for the people who want to see some good, responsible development in Haines.”
Lapham says she’s going to keep coming to meetings to speak up for those people. She predicts that the tie votes that happened fairly regularly on the old assembly will be rare on the new one.
“What people fail to realize is that ties can be good,” Lapham said. “Because this community is not like-minded. Everyone has their own opinions, they are passionate about their opinions.”
But Lende has a different perspective. She says, talking to voters, she was surprised by how much people agreed on.
“I do think we have more of a consensus in Haines than the party line has led us to believe,” Lende said.
Outside the polling station Tuesday, voter Paul Gaines said whoever is elected, he hopes they can see both sides of an issue and figure out a way to ‘work for everyone.’
Election results will be certified Oct. 25. Voter turnout was around 45 percent Tuesday.