Alaska in Brief

Q&A with Alaska Senate District B candidate Jesse Kiehl

By: - July 28, 2022 12:53 am

Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, speaks during an abortion-rights protest Saturday, June 25, 2022 in front of the Alaska Capitol in Juneau. (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.

Jesse Kiehl, Democratic candidate from Juneau

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?

We should change the law to a formula we can afford, and we should follow that law. The 40 year-old formula was written when the Fund was invested only in bonds and money market funds. It’s badly out of date for today’s investments in private equity, real estate, and venture capital. Alaskans deserve a PFD we can count on. We also need to use some of the Fund’s earnings to pay for schools, roads, public safety, and other services Alaskans need. As a member of the bipartisan Fiscal Policy Working Group, I proposed a bill to step up toward paying half the sustainable draw as PFDs, along with a moderate income tax to pay for public services.

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

My district’s biggest need is the same as all of Alaska: a stable, sustainable way to pay for the state services Alaskans need. As long as Alaska schools and fisheries management and transportation systems all have to ride the roller coaster of oil prices, the economy will suffer and there will be fewer jobs for our families. But with a combination of income sources—including a broad, low tax that ties state revenue to a healthy, growing economy—we can stabilize our future and give families and businesses the predictability they need to plan.

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

The government may not decide when—or whether—a person becomes a parent. That’s a personal, private healthcare choice to make with your own health care provider, conscience, and faith. I also firmly believe Alaska should become a better place to be a parent. That takes better access to health care, child care, and safe, strong schools. Those steps will reduce the number of abortions—and strengthen families. It’s also critical we address Alaska’s horrifying rates of domestic violence and sexual assaults. Forced pregnancies are a tactic abusers often use, and all Alaskans can agree we must address the scourge of relationship violence.

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

We need a variety of approaches. As a hunter education volunteer, I teach firearms safety, including safe storage. At the same time, I know the most deeply troubled young people are not likely to take my classes. The federal law closing some background check loopholes was a good step to keep firearms away from known abusers. The federal government should also close the so-called ‘gun show’ loophole. At the state level, expanding education is important, but not enough. We need to expand mental health services throughout our state to prevent violence of all kinds. And we should pass a responsible ‘red flag’ law to intervene when a firearm owner poses an imminent risk to themselves or others. We should use our mental health crisis laws—which protect civil rights and individual liberties—as the building blocks for that important policy.

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

As a religious man, I have strong, deeply held values. Here in America, no religion may be the source of our laws and government. That’s in both the First Amendment to the US Constitution, and Article I, Sec. 4 of Alaska’s Constitution.

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

Salaries do a lot to attract employees. Pensions and good working conditions retain them. Alaska needs to bring back a defined benefit pension to keep talented public servants for the long-term, especially since it’s cheaper than the system we have now. Alaskans can’t keep paying the colossal turnover costs (roughly $200,000 per Trooper!) of today’s state retirement system. Today, the rational financial move is for teachers, firefighters, and other public servants to work five years in Alaska and take their skills Outside to earn a pension in literally any other state. We need to save taxpayer money and benefit our economy with a pension that keeps their talents here in Alaska.

What does an ideal state ferry system look like?

The government can seldom afford an ideal anything. But an adequate Marine Highway System would publish schedules well in advance and have modern vessels in good repair so it can actually sail those schedules. It would have enough crew to run the ships year-round and call on ports often enough that coastal Alaska communities can move freight and groceries and commerce in all seasons. After three years of brutal budget cuts, we have none of those things. The federal infrastructure bill will help us recapitalize and restore the ferry system. To stay adequate in the long term,it will have to be run by maritime professionals more than political appointees.

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

Alaska has sound, secure elections today. We should make voting easier and more accessible without compromising that reliability. We should let individual Alaskans choose to permanently vote absentee. We ought to give voters a way to track their mailed ballots—and cure problems like missing identifiers or witness signatures. To ensure secret ballots, we should also end voting by fax. And Alaskans with disabilities must have better access to adaptive technology so they can cast secret, secure 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?

Conservation of the resource must come first. Over the past four years, I’ve worked to stop the governor’s cuts to fisheries management, many of which he slashed with his veto pen. This irresponsible approach has cost Alaskans a lot of fishing opportunities. Alaska now has ‘stocks of concern’ across our state, and we must give the Department of Fish & Game the tools to save the runs as they did once before, after Statehood. That includes enough research funding to identify why runs are dwindling. We also have to push back against federal groundfish managers who aren’t doing enough. That said, there’s a strong likelihood climate change and ocean acidification both play a role here. While those problems are bigger than Alaska can fix on our own, there’s a whole lot more we can do to do our part.

What constitutional amendments, if any, do you support?

Alaska’s Constitution needs very, very few changes:
1) I support removing the language that tries to forbid marriage equality.
2) I support going to a single standard for overriding vetoes: ⅔ of the legislature. The current ¾ vote to override budget vetoes is excessive and puts too much power in the hands of the executive.
3) If carefully crafted, I can support an amendment constitutionalizing a PFD at a sustainable level.
4) Finally, I support changing the lone, leftover reference to the “Secretary of State” in Article III, Sec. 25 to “Lieutenant Governor” so it matches the rest of the Constitutional change from 1970.

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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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