Senator Davis Campaigns to Keep Her Seat

Photo courtesy of the Bettye Davis campaign.

Senator Bettye Davis is best known for her support of the Denali Kidcare Program, a state program that provides health insurance for children. She has served East Anchorage for more than a decade. Now she's being challenged in Senate District M by fellow democrat and former state representative Harry Crawford, who is campaigning hard. But Davis says she won't give up her seat without a fight.

Senator Bettye Davis became the first African American to be elected to the Alaska Senate in 2000. Before that the Democrat served three terms in the House of Representatives. A former social worker, Davis's priorities have been children, education, health and social issues. Davis recently traded out 70 percent of her old East Anchorage district for other communities farther east.

“I've talked with a lot of people, I've sent out a lot of materials, I've been visiting in my new district, which is Eagle River,” Davis said.

Davis's District M was just reorganized by redistricting. During that process she lost a stronghold, Airport Heights and gained neighborhoods as far out as Eagle River. She says she suspects manipulation in the redistricting.

“They did that strictly to try to make that a district that could be won by a Republican. I'm a part of the senate majority caucus. And the Governor's openly come out and said he's trying to dismantle that because he doesn't want that to exist. And the lines have been drawn to really give advantage to the people that's serving in Eagle River,” Davis said.

Davis grew up in Louisiana. She came to Alaska about 40 years ago with her husband who was in the military. She ran for the Anchorage School board beating out about two dozen competitors and eventually becoming chair. Then a house seat opened up in Juneau, she ran and she won. Along the way she's served on the State Board of Education and on boards of several women's organizations. Of her competitor, Harry Crawford, who she says she has supported as a representative of her district, Davis says she was surprised he challenged her.

“He came to me and asked me if would withdraw from the race and I told him I would not. It didn't show a whole lot of respect as far as I'm concerned for him to come out and say, 'Oh I think I'm the best candidate' so I filed at the last minute to run for that seat. I still refuse to withdraw and so here we are in a primary,” Davis said.

On the issue of forward funding for the Anchorage School District, Davis is in favor it.

“I've been pushing for that for years. We never really have forwarded it, but we have early funded it. About two years ago we had a three year window where we had that for three years. And it works really well because you get to get the money to the school district or let them know what their gonna get so they don't have to go through the process of pink slipping your teachers because they don't know the amount of money they are going to have,” Davis said.

And she says she supports increasing the base student allocation, the amount of money allotted per student to the school district.

“We might need to lower it but that's not determined that it is. If you look at what's happening on the North Slope, we have more working there than ever, at the present time. Our economy is not in bad shape. But that doesn't mean that we don't need to talk and explore what we can do. I have nothing against the oil companies. I know that 90 percent of our budget comes from energy and naturally I want to do whatever I can to keep that,” Davis said when asked about lowering taxes for oil companies.

On affordable housing Davis said she wants to help, but was not specific about how. As far as health care, Davis says the governor should have accepted the initial funding to set up the healthcare exchange required by the Affordable Care Act.

“There will be an exchange set up. There will be federal money in it but we still will have to put money in it also. It's not like they'll set it up and run it in its entirety. So I think its grave mistake that we made by not accepting the money,” Davis said.

On the topic of anticipated growth and increasing diversity, Davis says it's important to make sure that every child in the Anchorage School District gets a high quality education. And equally as important she says is that there should be room for them to become leaders, in say, the legislature.

“In the legislature now there's 60 members. There's only 12 women out of the 60 that served in the legislature. There's native people, I guess there's eight or nine of them, house and senate combined, and myself. There are no other minorities at that level. I think any government should represent their constituents. And that's something that we're working on,” Davis said.

Whether Davis will continue as Senator for District M will be determined in the primary election on August 28.

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Daysha Eaton, KMXT - Kodiak
Daysha Eaton is a contributor with the Alaska Public Radio Network. Daysha Eaton holds a B.A. from Evergreen State College, and a M.A. from the University of Southern California. Daysha got her start in radio at Seattle public radio stations, KPLU and KUOW. Before coming to KBBI, she was the News Director at KYUK in Bethel. She has also worked as the Southcentral Reporter for KSKA in Anchorage. Daysha's work has appeared on NPR's "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered", PRI's "The World" and "National Native News". She's happy to take assignments, and to get news tips, which are best sent via email. Daysha became a journalist because she believes in the power of storytelling. Stories connect us and they help us make sense of our world. They shed light on injustice and they comfort us in troubled times. She got into public broadcasting because it seems to fulfill the intention of the 4th Estate and to most effectively apply the freedom of the press granted to us through the Constitution. She feels that public radio has a special way of moving people emotionally through sound, taking them to remote places, introducing them to people they would not otherwise meet and compelling them to think about issues they might ordinarily overlook.