Tiny Chickaloon, population 272, lies just within the newly redrawn boundaries of Senate E, the lengthy district that threads the Richardson Highway from Valdez to Delta Junction. Independent candidate for Senate E, Warren Keogh, has called Chickaloon home for three decades.
“I am a lifelong independent. I have been approached by folks in both parties, to become a Republican or become a Democrat, but I have decided to stay on the course that I have always been on and not become a partisan person.”
Keogh has a varied background – military service in Vietnam, firefighter and paramedic, paralegal and water resources specialist. He has served as Chickaloon Community Council president, and spent one term on the Matanuska Susitna Borough Assembly, representing the communities North of Palmer. He says he’s got the name recognition to take on the incumbent.
“A Mr. Dunleavy has been in office only two years, so he does have the advantage of incumbency, however, in this new district, he is only incumbent in half the area, and I reside in the other, the easternmost district E, so we both have considerable name recognition.”
Keogh says Dunleavy has failed on two fronts : education….
“Mr. Dunleavy, the very first bill he introduced as a freshman legislator, was an attempt to begin the process to allow public funds that are articulated and mandated in the state constitution to be spent for public education and nothing else, to allow those public monies to be spent on something other than state education.”
…and the state’s budget.
“In the Senate, he’s been on the Senate finance committee, and the last two years we have had the two largest state budget deficits in the history of Alaska. We have not been able to balance the checkbook, not even close to it, so I have a problem with that. “
Incumbent Republican Senator Mike Dunleavy says he believes that public education should include all students.
“I don’t think that has happened in the extent that it could”
Dunleavy says his legislaton, SJR9, is a two- fold attempt to allow the state more tools to engage more students.
“For example, the governor’s scholarship program allows Alaskans to take state money and go to private and or religious colleges. So by passing SJR9 those current practices would have been constituionalized, and we could have been able to expand our public education reach to include public-private partnerships, more so than we are now. “
He says he’s not out to privatize education, and that his children attend public schools.
Dunleavy a former school superintendent, is an educator by career, and lives with his family in Wasilla, one of the fast growing, sprawling communities in the Mat Su Borough. He won his Senate seat in the 2012 primary, defeating Republican incumbent Linda Menard, and went unopposed to Juneau the following January.
“There were some of us that thought the bi-partisan coalition that Senator Menard was part of, was not necessarily dealing with some of the long-standing issues such as the gas pipeline and declining oil production. “
He says during his first session in the Senate, he helped reduce the capital budget – and he points to work on the liability gap in the state retirement system, and funding for unfinished University of Alaska buildings.
“We did lop off close to a billion dollars out of the capital budget from before I got into the Senate, and we began to work on the process on the operating budget, and that’s what we are going to be focused on in the future. And we are going to have to be looking at how we spend money, looking at formulas embedded in some of these formula programs- such as in HSS”
The newly redrawn Senate E includes the waterfront town of Whittier, Valdez with its oil pipeline terminal, Delta farmlands and the Greely national defense site. Dunleavy says what the communities have in common is a need for affordable energy. He says the state needs to come up with a comprehensive energy plan for all of Alaska.
“Because not everyone could be connected with a pipeline, because not everone could be connected with interties, electrical interties. And so, we may have many communities that may have rely on local sources of energy. How do we go about identifying those sources of energy, how do we go about providing the funding for the infrastructure to access that energy. “
Senate E also holds the Matanuska Valley communities of Sutton and Chickaloon, which were fueled by coal mining a century ago, and are now home to increasing numbers of suburban families seeking a quiet spot in the country. It’s this changing demographic that has caused friction among residents either supporting or opposing coal mining.
Keogh, says what he’s hearing more about going door to door is public concern about education, and the state’s long – term economy. And he says, he’s got something some voters may like –
” And I think, I could be the key to an all-Alaska Senate coaltion.”]
He says voters are tired of partisan squabbling.