Shelley Hughes and Pete LaFrance faced each other on public television’s Running. Republican Hughes says she’s been working with the Valley’s legislative delegation for the past two years, and that’s a plus, in her opinion.
“I’ve been part of the Valley delegation, which is probably one of the strongest teams as far as the Mat Su delegation, as far as what we have been able to accomplish together. In the majority, I’m actually able to get things done, be very heavily involved in the committees. I’m very proud of the fact that I work bi-partisan. Every bill that I’ve had has had bi-partisan support. So I don’t play party politics. I’m not one to do that. “
Hughes, who has lived in Palmer about a quarter century and is the mother of four, has served one full term in the House. She chairs the economic development, trade and tourism committee, and says that bringing in good paying jobs to the state is a priority
“I actually carried successful legislation on that front in a couple of instances. One was to allow the industry related to unmanned aircraft to begin to look to Alaska as a possibility. And, of course, the privacy of our citizens was my number one concern, I was originally hesitant, but I did carry that, and now we have industry looking here in Alaska, we have actually have someone opening a plant to begin to manufacture those. “
But opponent Pete LaFrance says Hughes is part of a Republican caucus and will rubber stamp anything, including the state’s operating budget
“The budget deficit is huge. I’ve knocked on well over 2,000 doors and this is an issue that keeps coming up. And one of the things that I’ve learned that I have been shocked and dismayed by is this idea of the Republicans’ binding caucus down in Juneau. Where they join the caucus and essentially surrender their vote saying that we’ll vote for the budget that comes out of the committee before they’ve even seen it. We can’t possibly get on a path of fiscal sustainability until we put aside notions like this.”
La France, a teacher and an IT professional, was born and raised in Palmer. He spent years working abroad, however in Luxembourg and Mexico.La France says the legislative majority, including Hughes, has locked in three more years of education cuts, while spending money on what he considers wasteful programs.
“The fact of the matter is is that we have the largest budget deficit in Alaska’s history this year. And we’ve given money away to refineries, we’ve loaned 270 million to Canadian companies for risky ventures, seven and a half million on an office building in Anchorage that we don’t even own. “
The two sparred over which was the most fiscally conservative, especially differing over how to deal with deficits incurred by the state’s employee health benefits plan. Hughes says she’s helped cut that budget.
‘In the two years that I’ve been in, we’ve actually over those two year’s brought down general fund spending by 2.1 billion. And we will continue to work to bring that down, and one of the concerns that I’m hearing, and I understand that my opponent is wanting to return to defined benefits, which is not a cost neutral program, it put the state at tremendous risk.”
Hughes questioned LaFrance about his support of a defined benefits plan. LaFrance said previous legislation – Senate Bill 30 – would give workers the option of choosing to a defined benefit pension program.
“And the analysis thus far has show that they’re cost neutral. And you can argue with the analysis, but that’s what the people who crafted this legislation have noted. And I think that employees deserve that choice.”
Hughes shot back that the last legislature posted a deficit because of the state pension plan.
“We are billions in unfunded liability. I will say the three billion [dollars ] we paid will save us over time in the coming budgets, and that’s one of the reasons why we did have the deficit we did was to pay down that three billlion [dollars]”
As to how to bring up state revenues and cut spending, Hughes says she participated in gas line legislation and the rewrite of oil tax revenue collection, she says that’s helping to reverse oil production decline in Alaska.
LaFrance calls for improvements in Railbelt infrastructure.
“We need to invest in key infrastructure. We should modernize our electrical transmission grid, so that we can provide reliable and affordable power across the railbelt.”
He says a 900 million dollar investment by the state could save ratepayers up to 200 million dollars a year.
As of early October, Hughes has spent about 28 thousand dollars on her campaign , La France 30 thousand dollars.