Republican candidates for the District F Senate primary are similar on the surface. Both Bill Stoltze and DeLena Johnson grew up in small town Alaska, and Both are adamantly opposed to Proposition One. There the similarity ends.
Stoltze and Johnson have been debating in recent weeks, bringing a local slant to the big issues. One of the biggest – affordable energy. Bill Stoltze says he’s worked hard to keep Susitna – Watana Dam funding in the state budget:
“I thought that was an important step not to abandon a project at which so much had been invested in and it has such potential for Alaska. We have a goal of fifty percent renewable resources energy by, I believe, by 2020. No other project other than hydro gets you there. Wind, and other that are heavily subsidized, and hydro is the one that gets you to that sustainable energy goal.”
53 year old Stoltze, with a dozen years in the legislature behind him, co-chairs the House Finance committee, and has been a member of that body since 2003.
50 year old Johnson, a two time mayor of Palmer, owns Ethos LLC, a property development company and has made reduced government spending one of the tenets of her campaign. She says her priorities are costs, and costs will determine the big projects slated for the district.
“Certainly there’s some that have more benefit to residents, but I would say we have to prioritize based on what we can afford. If we can put that in the budget and we can afford it, I say, lets build as much as we possibly can. “
But Stoltze says, it’s a legislator’s job to prioritize:
“When you are elected you do have to prioritize. That’s one of the things we did this last session, we prioritized that we kept Susitna on track, so at least until we get to the next step and can determine its viability. That was leadership and prioritization.”
Johnson says she’s flushed wasteful spending from Palmer’s budget, and that she’ll bring a fiscally conservative attitude to the legislature. The two candidates had this lively exchange when asked about the cost of the renovation of the state building in downtown Anchorage. Stoltze said,
” I have tried to throw as many hurdles in the way of that as possible, every thing from voting against a furniture consulting contract.”
“Well, I guess this is new information to me, because my understanding, Bill is that you allowed that to go forward with a no-bid contract.”
Johnson has raised five children, all of them educated at home or in Mat Su Borough schools. She says her experience will help her to bring a common sense, practical approach to education funding.
“I know a little bit about school choice, because I home-schooled my children. I’ve also had my children in charter school. I have yy youngest son who is now a senior at Palmer high school. So I’ve had quite a gamut of educational experience, so I’m all for making things work first and foremost for the children, and not to look at it from a ten thousand foot bureaucratic view.”
Stoltze can’t say he has kids in local schools, but says he’s in favor of “educational choice” whether that means charter schools, home schools or vocational training.
“I suspect it’s not unusual for a parent to be involved in their school with their kids. But, look at my record. I’ve been involved with about every school in the Valley, and if you talk to teachers and students there, they know that Bill Stoltze is engaged in their school, not because I care about my kids, but because I care about your kids.”
Possibly one of the more contentious issues dividing the candidates: Cook Inlet fisheries. Stoltze backs the Mat Su Borough’s initiative aimed at bringing more sport fish to the Northern District river drainages. He says he’s shocked that Johnson has employed a commercial fisheries lobbyist in her campaign staff. But Johnson counters:
“We absolutely have to not target industries and decide we are going to put them out of business. So it doesn’t matter if it is sport fishing or commercial fishing, somebody is making their money that way. Instead of dividing the interests, we have to make this fish resource sustainable. “
Delena Johnson says she’ll work hard to serve local interests.
“The government closest to the people governs best. And local government, knowing what the people need, that’s the kind of government that I bring.”
Stoltze says he’s got a history of working for communities, whether they are inside his house district or not.
“Not caring about the boundaries, but looking at how we can make the Valley and Chugiak an even better place, regardless of these arbitrary political lines, which I’ve ignored in the past and I will in the future. “
Winning the primary may come down to determining who is bound to have biggest legislative clout, since so many big projects in the Valley depend on legislative support. According to the APOC, at end of the last reporting period Stoltze had about 37 thousand dollars remaining in his campaign chest, while Johnson had about 83 hundred dollars.