By Naomi Klouda
The hotly contested House seat held by Rep. Paul Seaton against challenger Jon Faulkner led to a spirited debate Wednesday night at the Kachemak City Community Hall.
Faulkner characterized Tuesday’s primary as an important election that is fundamentally about needed change after failings on the part of the current incumbent. Seaton stood to the task of defending his decade of work in the Alaska Legislature, pointing to his work advancing the priorities of the borough, city and citizens of District 30 (renumbered in redistricting this year from District 35.)
“This is an important election, about needed change, and who can deliver that change. My opponent has had 10 years to bring change to this community,” Faulkner said in opening statements. “Have your lives improved, has your business improved, has the economy improved? A lot of problems we have had been pushed off to the future. We have some of the high unemployment, fisheries (management) issues, resource allocation problems.”
Faulkner also cited downturns in the tourism-visitor industry, and languishing oil and gas development for the past 10 years.
“Is Seaton accountable? I think he is,” Faulkner said. “To be effective in Juneau, our Representative needs three things: a relationship with the Governor, the Legislature and private sector.”
Faulkner also tore into Seaton’s relationship with the governor as one where he didn’t try to forge close communication ties, and that he doesn’t share the governor’s faith. Finally, he attacked Seaton’s role favoring Ballot Measure 2.
Seaton, in opening comments, said he has served as a champion of economic development for the region through his 10 years in the legislature. The crown of his achievement, which took many years of work, is the newly funded Homer Area Natural Gas Line.
“The best thing you can look at is the gasline now under contract and coming down the highway. It was vetoed twice and I exercised the leadership to revise it twice. It will limit operating costs for businesses, it saves the borough over $1 million per year – that helps your tax base that stays down,” Seaton said. “My office is very open. I send out weekly newsletters announcing the work of each committee I serve on. My opponent has come up with the interesting title, ‘Seatonizing’ – that means I’m effective because I incorporate your comments into the legislation.”
Seaton related that he had sponsored the resolution that initiated the Bering Sea fleet, the Coastal Villages Community Development Quota fleet, moving from Seattle to Seward. These are fishing vessels up to 320 feet moving to Seward as their base, and it means jobs that will impact the economy of the entire peninsula.
Seaton encouraged the City of Homer to apply for the cruise ship head tax which has now poured $6 million in to the local economy.
Among Homer cruise ship-funded harbor improvements and a new trail system, two new bathrooms will be built in down town Homer after many years with out them for tourists and locals, Seaton noted.
KBBI News Director Aaron Selbig asked questions posed by the local business community who are members of the Homer Chamber of Commerce.
Q: Are you comfortable with the current ACES scheme (Alaska’s Clear and Equitable Share) or would you change perhaps, to a system based more on investment or production?
Faulkner: I’m pleased to report that there seems to be agreement among all the candidates that ACES is working but needs to be tweaked in the upper progressivity brackets. My position has been consistent from the beginning on this. I’m also pleased to announce that my opponent has came around to my way of thinking.
Just last year, Mr. Seaton introduced legislation to increase taxes to the oil companies (House Bill 328) Now he wants to lower taxes. I would ask him ‘what’s changed in six months?’ I believe we need to incentavize production to address the problem of declining TAPS through-put . We need to tie tax reduction to guaranteed investment in technological innovation to get the “hard-to-extract” oil in the Legacy fields flowing through the pipeline.
Seaton: The communities establish their priories and we look at those to see how they can be implemented. We have Bradley Lake (Hydro Dam) that is a marvelous thing that has come forward. And it wouldn’t have been built without state investment. Often it takes help from the state to make a project economical. That was the case we had here.
I worked on it (the gasline) four years. The definition of leadership is pursuing something until you get it accomplished. The gasline was the No. 1 priority for Kenai Peninsula Borough, for the borough school district, for the City of Homer and for Kachemak City.
My opponent said he wouldn’t stand in the way. I think that’s not the kind of leadership we need. The priorities are set by the residents and I will look at the priorities and try to get those accomplished.
Faulkner: Paul doesn’t understand how things get done in the private sector. I believe I could have done it sooner and without public subsidy. I support the introduction of natural gas to Homer and you deserve credit for helping make that happen. My approach would have been to work with the Governor and the Legislature and private sector to get it done two years sooner.
Seaton: Faulkner’s approach is that he would have waited for something to happen. He couldn’t have worked with the governor because he wouldn’t be involved because you wouldn’t be taking about state involvement in the project if it’s with the private sector. This isn’t something accomplished by one person. It takes many people working together, writing letters-to-the editors, writing letters to the legislature, calling the governor. This is accomplished by working together.
Q: The legislature saw fit to take tourism funding away from the industry-led Alaska Travel Industry Association, and gave it to the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, there is no co-op advertising opportunities for local marketing organizations. Since tourism supports 40,000 jobs statewide and contributes $160 million to the state, what ideas do you have about a permanent solution for the tourism industry?
Seaton: In 2003, I attended the Seldovia South side of Kachemak Bay Economic Development Conference and they set three priorities and they achieved all of them. In 2005, I attended another conference in Cooper Landing, a peninsula wide tourism development conference. Roark Brown was looking at regional marketing instead of having it centralized in Anchorage. I worked with him to get regional marketing into the brochures.
However, we had the cruise ship tax to help fund ATIA. After the voter initiative established the head tax, the cruise ship industry withdrew funding from ATIA and no one stepped up to the plate. A bill passed to fund ATIA with the agreement that the industry would make a 50/50 match for two years. Two years passed, and no one stepped up. So the money was taken away. Now it goes through the DCCED because ATIA didn’t step up to the plate.
Faulkner: Speaking as a constituent for a minute, I’ve been in the visitor and tourism industry for 25 years, and manage one of the largest visitor businesses on the Peninsula. I don’t think Mr. Seaton and I have had one conversation about tourism in all his years representing this District. The truth is, Mr. Seaton doesn’t seem to care about tourism.
I was on the transition committee that created ATIA. I was assigned to serve as incoming President of the Alaska Hotel and Lodging Association. This is another example of Paul Seaton’s sinking ship. That this has happened shows a lack of leadership and unbelievable disregard for the residents and families of this district. Tourism touches everybody and we have been flat or in decline for 10 years.
Here’s an example. Six years ago, I obtained unanimous consent on a Resolution from the Kenai Borough calling for the withholding of funding to this organization until the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska’s largest independent visitor destination, received a permanent board seat. I brought the same resolution to the Homer City Council. We were asking Seaton to withhold funding to ATIA until we get a board seat representing the Kenai Peninsula. We desperately need ATIA; it’s a vital organization, but it does need to be reformed.
Seaton: (Faulkner) He wants to inject the legislature into a private sector association to insert a board seat – that is asking for the reach of big government into private industries. It’s not a legislative duty to change the board of directors of a private industry.
Faulkner: Now the government is in charge of ATIA. Let’s talk about local voice that you are such a proponent of. In this case you failed to give the locals a voice. Here was a resolution calling on you to withhold funds and it’s the largest tourism group in the state. Now we don’t have a voice.
Q: There is much contention between commercial and sport fishing interests. How do you propose we find and strike a balance? Where do you stand on the bycatch issue?
Faulkner: I’ll take bycatch first. Why is bycatch different than wanton waste? You can go to jail for under-harvesting a moose in the field. We are destroying more fish through bycatch then the entire allocation of sport fishing of halibut. My opponent is content with 15 percent in two years, starting next year. I’m proposing a 50 percent reduction over ten years, starting immediately. My opponent thinks this is impossible. I think it’s leadership.
We haven’t had any progress with bycatch in twenty years. The estimated Halibut biomass saw a 30 percent crash one year ago – all under his (Seaton’s) watch. He’s the chairman of the fisheries committee that should be monitoring the state’s interests in these things, since Halibut affects us all. These are our fisheries. We are under the obligation to monitor the biomass. It wasn’t done.
My opponent’s idea of balance on the board of fish is three commercial and two recreational fishermen. That’s not balance. We need to stress ‘unbiased interests’ to bring balance–the absence of any conflict of interest. My opponent voted in 2009 to loosen the conflict of interest regulations for the board of fish; I believe they should be strengthened.
Seaton: The question of halibut bycatch was one of three resolutions before the panel. We have six of the 11 members (on the National Marine Fisheries Management Commission.) When it came to comment on those three options, my opponent never commented to the decision makers. There’s nothing in the record. I wrote to the governor and council and every newspaper in the state to get bycatch reduction for the first time in history. We were able to accomplish that.
You can dream pie in the sky ‘why not 50 percent or 60 percent.’ There were three options. One for a five percent reduction, one for a 10 reduction and one for a 15 percent. I encouraged everyone to get the 15 percent passed. That is leadership. This is the first bycatch reduction we’ve had in history.
We achieve balance between commercial and sport fishermen by advocating for both of them. I advocated against that one-fish (halibut) limit. I actually wrote the council and asked them not to implement that plan. But there is nothing in the record from my opponent.
Faulkner: Who is accountable for your research Paul, you or your staff? You’ve accused me of this now twice. My letter is posted exactly where it should be, where it has been for 11 months: on the NOAA website, a letter dated 9-5-11. My letter is there for the public record.
Q: Fishing is so important to all parts of the Kenai Peninsula. What is your position on the catch plan verses the catch sharing plan?
Seaton: It’s an interesting proposal. My letter Sept. 21, 2011 goes into the difference in the nature between commercial and sport fishing. The Catch Share Plan would curtail the sport fishery at low abundance. They would get more when there is a higher biomass, but the charter permit system would not have allowed the charter industry to access those higher quotas. The Catch Share Plan did not go into effect.
An article in the Alaska Journal of Commerce talked about the idea of the CATCH Pool Plan being around for a long time, at least 15 years. It disregards a free enterprise system. It promotes a communal ownership. Somehow the communal organization would get IFQs and whether the distribution of poundage is based on a good old boy system or a lease is unresolved. The nonprofit communal organization could spend all the money on salary and operations.
There is a good way to do it as a free enterprise system. Since there is a restricted number of charter permits, they could be allowed to purchase a limited amount of quota for harvest, exclusively in the charter sector.
Faulkner: Please note that my activities have all been as an active citizen, not a paid legislator or chairman of a fisheries committee, and yet my involvement in this issue speaks to my community. At our first debate. Mr. Seaton didn’t know the difference between the CATCH PLAN and the Catch Sharing Plan. Once he learned I collected petitions against it, and was appointed to serve on the CATCH panel designed to forestall the CSP, he changed his tune.
I’ll be clear: the catch share plan should be scrapped. It is more of the same, more conflict, it doesn’t solve any problems. It will lead to depletion.
Up to now the government hasn’t allowed a transfer (of IFQs) between commercial and sport fishermen, which I support and I’m glad to see my opponent coming around on this. The catch plan features and the mechanisms have yet to be determined.
Seaton: None of the tough issues were resolved in that plan. I want to clarify that I’m not the chair of the (House) fisheries committee; I’m co-chair of House Resources Committee, the second largest committee in the House.
Faulkner: This is another Seaton train wreck – zero progress in 10 years. (Seaton) is part of the status quo. He deals with complex subjects on a crisis management basis. He’s not looking ahead in solving this issue. It’s an allocation / transferability issue and everyone is suffering with it. His comments to NMFS and the North Council of the CSP were too little too late. His letter called for minor tweaks to the CSP and not to trash it–where it belongs. If Mr. Seaton were listening, he would know there is no support for the CSP in this community.
Q: Do you think the Department of Fish and Game and Board of Fish are doing a good job managing fisheries on the Peninsula? What, if anything, would you change?
Faulkner: A lot of that angst and anger from this year’s “perfect storm” is focused on the Board of Fish. I don’t think that is justified. The fish boards and the game boards are working. The legislature should let them do their job. We should approve the Governor’s appointments who are neutral. I would confirm people who know the resource, have local support and no conflict of interest
In 2009, (Seaton) voted in to relax the conflict of interest rules on the Board of Fish. That’s what leads to problems. Conflicts of interest need to be eliminated. You need to leave the legislature out of it.
We’re seeing the same old problems emerge with setnetters and nothing substantive has been done to solve the problem by the current legislature.
Seaton: We’re having real problematic times because ADFG went outside board policy and closed setnetting because there weren’t a lot of reds. The setnets would get a higher proportion of kings. I was at the meeting when they talked to the setnetters. ADFG said they would base openings on abundance, Fish and Game said they would open for higher numbers of kings. However, they didn’t open the fishery when reds were on the beach. They kept it closed.
We have a problem with the Board of Fish and the appointments made by the governor. He wanted to appoint Carl Johnston, who lives in Arizona 6 months of the year. I voted against his confirmation as did everyone else on the Kenai Peninsula. It takes a full majority, so you don’t get to win those things. But it’s a problem. We turned down local resident, Brent Johnson, and that would have been an appointment I voted for.
Faulkner: As for Brent Johnson, I have nothing but great things to say about him. But he doesn’t fit my criteria, because he does have a conflict of interest. We’re going to have a hard time filling our boards with people who are without conflict.
Not one idea has come out of my opponent or the legislature to solve the east side set net problem vis-a-vis King Salmon management.
Seaton: What we really need is to reduce salmon bycatch taken by the trawl fleet. We need stream enhancement of stocks that are in the stream. Those are things we can do to enhance the stock.
We need to make sure we have management plans that work well and we don’t have interference from the political process.
Q: There is currently a boom in Cook Inlet gas exploration. What does it mean for the future of the Peninsula? What, if anything, would you change?
Seaton: There is a boom and it’s good to have that boom. It’s economic development. The City of Homer was in negotiations to have the Buccaneer rig wintered here, which would have been of economic benefit, until they leased their Cosmopolitan unit and realized they could continue work in winter.
What we’re seeing now is competition between ConocoPhillips and ENSTAR, which wants to buy the summer gas for an underground storage base we brought on line. (To avoid the gas shortages projected for Southcentral Alaska.) We’re counting on having that gas for next year, and now we’re looking at it to be exported to Japan.
Buccaneer is looking at having its first well out East End Road started by the end of September in order to maintain their leases. The problem is that they dumped a plan of development on the table instead of talking to the people. They didn’t make those local contacts, such as Apache and other groups have done. Apache didn’t just have it designed on paper, and say I’m doing this here. There was coordination and the industry can do that well as Apache has shown with their seismic work.
Faulkner: Notice that (Seaton’s) emphasis is on more barriers, laying out the problems with the emerging boom. I’m thinking – it’s fabulous. It’s the one bright spot in the community for families looking for jobs. What can we do to increase their investment in an environmentally safe manner?
Certain senators have directly benefited us. We need to welcome these businesses. We need to ask them to accelerate their work, because we need it now. People are suffering, and these Independents need to know that.
The oil and gas business is working in the (Cook Inlet) basin and we should take that strategy into the future. We need to listen to Apache when they tell us they had to pay for 30 people to do an archeological assessment and it cost them $1 million. That’s a barrier to their success. We need to ask if that is an essential requirement for them to do business.
Where do you stand on Ballot Measure 2?
Faulkner: I am a staunch proponent of defending our coast line. I am a lifelong Alaskan, I recreate here and I believe in strong coastal protections. I can promise you that if elected, I will commit to working on it. But this is not the way to do it. It is by-passing the legislature and the democratic process. It creates a panel of nine people the governor will appoint.
The voice my opponent talks about exists in our democratically elected bodies. We agree that we want to strengthen our voice, but let’s use elected bodies to do it, not appointed panels that take testimony from outsiders. Let’s also consider the rules that existed when we invited these Independents to come invests here in Cook Inlet. The oil and gas companies were asked to come to Alaska and invest in our communities. Then, they get here and what do we do? We pass Prop 2. Think about what happens when you invite someone in and they bring money and they bring jobs, and how do you treat them?
I don’t trust the federal government if they tell me they are going to strengthen Alaska’s say over federal policy. It always comes with strings.. When I call federal offices, they don’t even know where Alaska is. Federal agencies don’t know how to spell Kasilof and they don’t know where Homer is. Let’s keep it in Alaska, who are our neighbors and friends and fellow Alaskans.
Seaton: I am for Ballot Measure 2. The matter isn’t all decided if this passes. It can be amended in any way we want as long as the amendments are in the spirit of the law. It can be repealed in two years. The feds have the EPA and the Army Corp of Engineers. They exercise their authority on federal waters and federal lands and without a coastal management plan, we can’t have a say on how. ACMP allows us to put our permitting system on to their land and into 3-200 miles of federal waters. Without it, what we do is take ourselves out of the process.
We worked two years (on Coastal Zone Management) to try to get there. We couldn’t get there because there is a basic philosophical difference among legislators. There are those who think the decisions should be in state hands and those who think it should be in local hands. If this doesn’t pass we won’t be taking it up again for a long time because that philosophical difference will still be there and the public will have said ‘no.’
Faulkner: The plan could be strengthened through the process, through democratically elected institutions that exist now. We want, as a state, to resist encroachment as much as possible. I don’t think it’s wrong to say ‘no,’ to the federal government, ‘you’re not going to do that.’ I think that’s leadership.
Seaton: An initiative is bypassing our democratic process? When (government) is at loggerheads and they can’t do something the people want, the people can gather a petition and get it put on a ballot to say we do want this. We can reinstitute the Jay Hammond model for coastal zone management (that he implemented in 1979 when he established the Alaska Coastal Management Plan).
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