Redistricting has thrown two incumbent North Pole Republican lawmakers into a new district, and created one of the more unusual political matchups in this year’s primary: District 1 Representative Tammie Wilson versus District 2 incumbent, Doug Isaacson, for the new District 3 seat.
“It was not our decision to run against each other,” he said. “That is just the process of the redistricting board.”
They both often found themselves on the same side of an issue during the last legislative session – which was Isaacson’s first, and Wilson’s second full term.
Both oppose ballot measure 1, which proposes to repeal oil-company tax cuts. Both decry high energy prices; and both repeat the familiar refrain that the solution is to bring cheap natural gas into the Interior.
But after a few minutes of conversation, differences in style and substance emerge. Like Isaacson’s tendency to get wonky as he lists his priorities.
“Energy, transportation, jobs, quality of life, investment here in Alaska by Alaskans. And I focus in on these in a structured manner that allows us to have progress.”
Wilson sees herself as more of a retail politician, as she explained during a recent afternoon of door-to-door campaigning.
“For me, it’s all about the constituents,” she said. “I mean, I’m out here walking the neighborhoods to give people the opportunity, whether they agree or disagree with me, to have that conversation.”
Both talk of the need to cut state spending in the wake of falling revenues. But Wilson says that doesn’t mean unemployment will increase.
“Smaller government does not necessarily mean less jobs. It means less government jobs, but maybe it means more private jobs,” she said.
But Isaacson worries that Alaska hasn’t developed plans and policies to enable the private sector to offset shrinking state expenditures.
“If we’re going to have to reduce the budget, what are we going to do to expand the economy? What are we doing to bring down the need for state intervention?”
Their differences over the role of government takes an odd twist over one of the Fairbanks area’s most divisive issues: improving air quality. Isaacson faults Wilson for claiming to support small government and local government at the same time she’s leading ballot initiative campaigns to take control of air quality management from the borough and give it to the state.
“I really stress keeping government close to the people,” he said. “I don’t believe the state necessarily makes the better decision. I believe the state should be augmenting the municipalities.”
But Wilson says the state already has the resources and authority to deal with air-quality problems. And she says creation of another, local layer of government to do the same thing is unnecessary and wasteful.
“Well the state already has the state law, that already goes over air quality,” she said. “We also have the resources on the state level to do that.”
Wilson says having the state deal with the problem could help bring natural gas to Fairbanks sooner. And in the meanwhile, it’ll save borough taxpayers from having to pay more property taxes to support an expanded air-quality program.
“But the biggest reason you want to keep it on the state level is because the ultimate answer is affordable energy, and gas. So people can switch if they want from wood and coal,” she said. “I’ve actually heard from the agency that if the borough takes over the control it’s their issue.”
The winner of the Republican primary will go on to face North Pole Democrat Sharron Hunter in the Nov. 4 general election.