Lower Kenai Peninsula House candidates differ on abortion, constitutional convention

Candidates also have contrasting views on ranked choice voting

By: - November 3, 2022 4:00 am
Composite image of House District 6 candidates Ginger Bryant, Louis "Louie" Flora and incumbent Sarah Vance. (Campaign photos)

Composite image of House District 6 candidates Ginger Bryant, Louis “Louie” Flora and incumbent Sarah Vance. (Campaign photos)

In the race to represent Homer and other lower Kenai Peninsula communities in the Alaska State House, the two main contenders differ on some key issues, like abortion rights, support for a constitutional convention and ranked choice voting.

In the August primary, sitting legislator Republican Sarah Vance got 52% of the vote with nonpartisan Louis “Louie” Flora getting 40%. Nonpartisan Ginger Bryant, a self-described “new kid on the block,” got 8%. All three will be on the ballot next week.

In Juneau, Vance has shown support for legislation restricting abortions and budget amendments. In 2020, she sponsored her own anti-abortion legislation, which was never heard in committee.

This past April, the two-term legislator supported an amendment to the budget that aimed to eliminate state funding for abortion services. During a floor speech in favor of the amendment, Vance talked about her unplanned pregnancy when she was 23, which she was in denial about “because I had a two-year plan and I was being responsible.”

“And so I took a pregnancy test, Madam Speaker, but I didn’t believe it until I heard her heartbeat and I saw the little bean on the screen,” she said. “And so I want us to remember that this is more than just dollars or what court orders. This is the very lives of our future.”

The Alaska Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the right to abortion under the privacy and equal protection clauses of the Alaska Constitution, and has ruled that Alaska Medicaid must cover medically necessary abortions. That House amendment didn’t make it to the final budget, though the Senate’s proposal to do something symbolically similar did. 

Flora highlighted the differences between him and Vance, including their positions on abortion rights, during a Homer Chamber of Commerce candidate forum in mid-October. Flora is a commercial fisher and was a longtime staff member to former Homer Rep. Paul Seaton, who Vance defeated in 2018. 

“I support medical freedom, including the freedom for women to make reproductive health decisions with their medical provider,” Flora said. 

In the Alaska Beacon questionnaire, the lifelong Alaskan called himself a “pro-freedom and pro-life candidate” when it comes to abortion rights. During an interview with the Beacon in September, he said he is “absolutely for reproductive choice in Alaska,” and clarified what he meant by “pro-life.”

“I believe that a lot of people that have taken on the term ‘pro-life’ are not there after birth; I think they’re pro-birth. But if they’re voting to defund education programs and defund student nutrition programs and not willing to work on gun violence abatement, you know, they don’t have the ability to say that they’re ‘pro-life,’” he said.

Bryant, a conflict resolution practitioner and event center owner, is pro-abortion rights. “I want to be clear; I am pro-choice. We need to protect our choice,” she said during the Home Chamber candidate forum. 

On what abortion policies and laws Alaska should follow, Bryant wrote in the Beacon candidate questionnaire, “I believe Alaskan Privacy is the corner stone of our Community Culture and is Sacrosanct.” 

Vance did not fill out the Beacon questionnaire or reply to numerous requests for an interview. 

Constitutional convention ballot measure

Bryant and Flora are both against having a constitutional convention.

“If we go with a constitutional convention, it’s going to kneecap a lot of our businesses and a lot of our forward progression,” Bryant said during the candidate forum. 

Flora said Alaska has a strong constitution in regard to, for example, resource development, protections for public employees and the right to privacy. He said a convention could harm the state’s economy. 

“I think we need to be careful about the potential that outside interests could come into the process and take away some of our Alaskan rights, and we also need to be just careful of the kind of chaos that it would cause in the economy,” he said.

Flora did note that he is in support of putting the Permanent Fund dividend in the constitution, but thinks that change can be done through the constitutional amendment process.

“I think that’s critical moving forward, as you know, in terms of balancing our budget and not having the annual battle down in Juneau about the Permanent Fund dividend,” he said. “So I’m a yes vote on constitutionalizing the dividend and no vote on opening up the whole shebang” 

While Vance said she would respect whatever the voters decided, she said she would be voting yes on the ballot question “because I believe in you having the ability to decide what your constitutional rights should be.” 

She encouraged yes voters to stay engaged with the process so it turns out as they hope.

“As with every other discussion, whether that’s Judicial Council, whether that’s the dividend, parent’s choice in education, it is our responsibility to be involved in that process, and not just wait until the final vote comes,” Vance said.

Ranked choice voting

Calling the system “confusing,” Vance said at the candidate forum that her top legislative issue for the next session is to repeal ranked choice voting. She said that’s the No. 1 issue people across House District 6 are talking about.

“And so I am composing a bill that will return it to the way that we had it before. Simply get back to one person one vote that you have been used to seeing on your ballot,” she said. 

Bryant said she supports Alaska’s new voting system. As a result of ranked choice voting, she said she was able to provide a third voice in the race that was not “a reflection or the same two voices that you’ve been hearing. 

Flora also supports ranked choice voting and said the state is learning how the system works. He likes that it eliminates the party primary process, creates a more moderate electorate and brings more voices to the table.   

“It’s extremely premature to be casting doubts on the law and then talk about repealing it when we have barely had one cycle to see it work,” he said.

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Lisa Phu
Lisa Phu

Lisa Phu covers justice, education, and culture for the Alaska Beacon. Previously, she spent eight years as an award-winning journalist, reporting for the Juneau Empire, KTOO Public Media, KSTK, and Wrangell Sentinel. She's also been Public Information Officer for the City and Borough of Juneau, lead facilitator for StoryCorps Alaska based in Utqiagvik, and a teacher in Tanzania and Bhutan. Originally from New York, Lisa is a first generation Chinese American and a mom of two young daughters. She can be contacted at [email protected]

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