Alaska in Brief

Q&A with Alaska House District 16 candidate Jennie Armstrong

By: - July 28, 2022 12:46 am

The House floor on April 22, 2022, in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney)

The Alaska Beacon asked Alaska’s legislative candidates to answer a 15-question survey about their positions on a variety of issues. Read all of their responses here. Answers have not been edited.

Jennie Armstrong, Democratic candidate from Anchorage

Yes/No questions

The Alaska Constitution allows legislators to call a constitutional convention at any time. Are you interested in calling a convention?

No

Would you be willing to join a coalition majority in which the opposite political party controls a majority of seats?

Yes

Should new public employees have access to a pension?

Yes

Should the state take over the federal permitting process that regulates construction in wetlands?

No

Should Juneteenth be a state holiday?

Yes

Open-ended questions

How should the state of Alaska set the amount of the Permanent Fund dividend each year?

The Permanent Fund Dividend amount should be set by a formula that honors the history of the Fund as an endowment meant to allow Alaskans to count on the PFD each year and preserve future generations’ wealth.

What’s the biggest need in your district, and how would you address it?

The biggest needs in West Anchorage are similar to those affecting the entire state; slowed economic development, availability of childcare, access to education, housing availability, and threats to individual rights are all front of mind for voters in my district. I will address these issues as a legislator by advocating for programs that make Alaska an appealing place to invest, retain public employees, and protect families and children. I will advocate for subsidized child care, universal pre-K, and well-funded K-12, university, and trade schools. Good education in Alaska is a boon for individuals and for our economy—our future relies on a strong workforce. We have reaffirmed our interest in strong privacy rights as a state over and over again, and I will work tirelessly, as I have for over a decade, to protect those most fundamental rights. I will work closely with our communities to ensure everyone has an opportunity to participate in the legislative process.

What policies and laws should Alaska follow with regard to abortion?

The precedent is set. We must respect the direction of our state constitutional founders and protect Alaskans from government interference into private medical matters.

How should the state reduce the threat of gun violence and mass shootings?

We routinely rank in the top five states with the highest rates of gun deaths (age-adjusted per 100,000), the majority of those deaths related to suicide. The rate of suicide in Alaska is driven by many intertwined factors, such as childhood trauma and economic inequality. Investing in our communities, supporting economic development, effectively funding child protection programs, and ensuring communities have access to traditional food may all lower the rate of suicide over time. The state must invest in evidence-based, culturally competent violence and suicide prevention programs with a vision for long-term holistic health of Alaskan communities in mind.

Guns are an essential tool for many aspects of Alaskan life, and broad-swath regulation may not target the factors behind the rate of gun violence in Alaska effectively.

How much should a legislator’s faith or religion determine state law and policy?

A legislator should dutifully represent their district, the needs of their constituents, and have the best interests of Alaska in mind. Though personal beliefs are a component of legislative decision-making, legislators should ensure their votes come from a place of responsiveness to their district and not fulfillment of personal interest.

What should the state do to improve retention of public employees, including teachers?

Competitive compensation is a basic first step to improve retention of public employees. Alaska ranks higher for entry-level wages, but falls to the bottom quartile in compensation for more senior teachers. With little opportunity to be compensated relative to years and experience, teachers will leave. Additionally, lacking a defined benefit program, teachers in Alaska are not allowed to access Social Security. How can we expect to retain teachers when staying means they are subject to undue hardship in their retirement?

Additionally, ensuring resources are dedicated to routine maintenance of school facilities and related infrastructure will improve teacher retention and morale.
Housing shortages in rural Alaska also depress retention rates of teachers and other public employees. The state must dedicate funding to ensuring there is appropriate housing available in rural communities.

What does an ideal state ferry system look like?

An ideal ferry system, like any transportation system, is reliable, safe, efficient, affordable, and fits in seamlessly with personal and commercial life. Connectivity is essential to the success of Alaskan communities. In terms of funding, the ferry system should be treated for what it is: a critical service. Streets and highways are not subject to the same expectation: generate revenue, or risk elimination. Ferries should be available and maintained with the understanding that they are central to life in communities off the road system. An ideal ferry system will also support our tourism economy and a diverse range of small businesses across the state.

What, if any, changes does the state need to make to ensure voting is equitable and secure?

Legislators must ensure the Division of Elections receives sufficient funding to not only run elections successfully, but to run voter education programming across the state. Misinformation is a threat to equitable and secure voting, and state agencies must be able to be responsive to misinformation trends affecting Alaskan voters. Automatic voter registration via Permanent Fund Dividend applications, which was approved by voter mandate on a ballot measure in 2016, is an innovative and successful program. The state should make sure this program is preserved. The state should continue to invest in translated voter resources and education to ensure everyone in our diverse state has an equal opportunity to vote.

What do you intend to do about the poor returns of salmon in the Yukon and Kuskokwim drainages, and what are the main causes of the problems?

Continuing studies are needed to drive our response to poor salmon return and management of this crucial resource across Alaska. Our response should be evidence-based and responsive to community needs.

What constitutional amendments, if any, do you support?

I believe we can resolve issues affecting the state through the standard legislative process.

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James Brooks
James Brooks

James Brooks is a longtime Alaska reporter, having previously worked at the Anchorage Daily News, Juneau Empire, Kodiak Mirror and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. A graduate of Virginia Tech, he is married to Caitlyn Ellis, owns a house in Juneau and has a small sled dog named Barley. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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