Alaska in Brief

Q&A with Alaska House District 17 candidate Harriet Drummond

By: - July 28, 2022 12:44 am

Rep. Harriet Drummond, D-Anchorage, speaks in the Alaska House of Represenatives on Sunday, May 15, 2022 at the Alaska State Capitol in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

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.

Harriet Drummond, 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?

Did not answer

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?

My goal for the Permanent Fund is that it grows to the point that it can fund state government AND gives Alaskans a dividend that enriches lives. That is doable within the current structure of the POMV annual draw and determining each year the size of the PFD that we can afford while continuing to fund state services.

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

TRAFFIC ISSUES: A key component of public safety is controlling vehicular traffic to keep drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and bicyclists—everyone—safe, and ensuring all may use the roads, sidewalks and trails. Road construction and planning must preserve neighborhoods, not divide and isolate them. In addition, roads and sidewalks must be properly maintained year-round. We can’t have roads and sidewalks like we had last winter that were basically undrivable, unwalkable and very unsafe.

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

We must maintain the right to privacy that our constitution grants Alaskans. To avoid the need for abortions, we must increase availability and access to contraceptives as well as age-appropriate sex education to drive down the rate of teen pregnancies. We must always stay out of private decisions between a woman and her health care provider, just as we do in any other type of health care. Banning abortions doesn’t end abortions, it just makes accessing abortion services unsafe for women. And women will die if abortion were to be banned in Alaska.

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

Institute red flag laws as encouraged by recent federal legislation, which keep guns out of the hands of individuals who have demonstrated that they may hurt themselves or others. Ban assault rifles. Secure school entrances, by assuring eyes on the main entrances and securing all other doors. Employing school resource officers works well in the Anchorage School District and has averted some serious situations by intercepting individuals who mean to do harm to students. Demand safe and secure gun storage for all gun owners and create more of a culture of gun safety in our state by providing gun safety classes to all Alaskans. Hold the gun manufacturers to a higher standard when it comes to implementing gun safety for all. Call on these manufacturers to invest money in smart gun technology. In the words of President Barack Obama, “If we can set it up so you can’t unlock your phone unless you’ve got the right fingerprint, why can’t we do the same thing for our guns?”

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

Not at all. Let’s respect all faiths and religions, and keep church and state separate, as our nation’s founding fathers intended.

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

Losing the defined benefit retirement system dealt our hiring and retention a lethal blow. Reinstating it will make Alaska more attractive to all public employees including teachers. They deserve a sound financial future in their golden years. I find it shocking that our public employees didn’t even get returned to the Social Security system. They’ve lost 16 years of building a secure retirement; that’s half a career for most people. Returning to the defined benefit is Job One for the 33rd Alaska Legislature. We are currently very short staffed in all employment sectors and the services the public deserves and expects are not being delivered. A couple of other states tried the defined contribution system and returned to the defined benefit after a short period. Alaska is the only state using the defined contribution and as a result we are bleeding talented and skilled employees, who leave when they are vested after five years, or sooner, and take the training that we’ve invested in them which then benefits another state or locality.

As for teachers, Alaska’s children and families deserve to see the same dedicated teachers and education staff return year after year to maintain the trust in our formerly great public education system and get the education they deserve to succeed in life, remain in Alaska for higher education or trade school, or return after education Outside, and to thrive. Otherwise we the legislature are failing to establish and maintain a system of public schools open to all children of the State, as our constitution demands.

In addition to retirement benefits, lack of housing is big issue in many communities for teachers, health and public safety workers and others. We must invest in such housing as well as water and sanitary sewer utilities in every community ignorer to retain employees.

What does an ideal state ferry system look like?

An ideal state ferry system operates well-maintained and safe vessels, employs a reasonable travel schedule, and is reliable. I am grateful that our federal delegation provided operating funds that will cover the ferry system for the next five years, and will help build badly needed replacement vessels. That gives the system time to work out a plan for operating in the future. Meanwhile note that prior to the cuts made to the ferries by the current administration, the Alaska Marine Highway collected about 42% of its operating costs in fares. There is not a single highway in the state that comes anywhere close to that in fuel taxes collected and applied, and with no toll roads to collect additional revenues to help maintain the roads whose construction is substantially funded by the federal government. The Alaska Marine Highway is the longest transportation system operated by any state, with a combined total routes of well over 3,000 miles. It is our interstate highway and deserves to be funded and maintained as such.

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

Anchorage has used vote by-mail since 2017, has had virtually no issues with security and has substantially increased voter participation. I believe that is the direction the state should be moving. In-person voting has been problematic in too many rural locations. The state must also address issues that arose in the vote by-mail Special Primary election, like removing the witness requirement, which led to disqualifying many voters’ ballots.

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?

I rely on my colleagues in the House Special Committee on Fisheries for answers to these issues and I support their recommendations for immediate application. But scientists agree climate change is the major cause of the poor salmon returns to these rivers. The Yukon saw a massive salmon die-off in 2019 from the high temperatures. It’s also been determined that young salmon don’t have enough nutrients in the waters on the river and Bering Sea to thrive and even survive.

For now we can continue to send the local communities from the Yukon and Kuskokwim salmon from thriving communities, like those in Bristol Bay who had a record high commercial salmon catch. It’s not ideal, but this way at least the locals have the opportunity to eat their traditional salmon foods.

What constitutional amendments, if any, do you support?

I support removing from our constitution the definition of marriage as one man, one woman since this issue has been defined at the federal level. I would also support instituting protections for all Alaskans as to personal issues of gender identity and sexual orientation. The strong privacy clause protects many rights; specifying at least some of those rights, like abortion, may be helpful.

As issues arise that may require constitutional amendments to resolve, targeted, focused amendments that go through the legislative process and are presented to the public to vote on is the best way to make incremental changes to what has been called the best state constitution in the United States, as has been done 40 times since it was ratified by Alaskans in 1956.

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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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