Alaska in Brief

Q&A with Alaska Senate District E candidate Cathy Giessel

By: - July 28, 2022 12:41 am

The Alaska State Capitol 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.

Cathy Giessel, Republican 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?


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?

Did not answer

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


Should Juneteenth be a state holiday?


Open-ended questions

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

Stable. Sustainable. That’s how you manage your personal budget. That’s how the Dividend should be managed.

High oil prices won’t last. Oil price was negative numbers just last year. When oil prices fall again, and funds for public services are lacking, a large dividend is not possible. Money spent on the dividend, especially for wealthier Alaskans, could be put to better public use.

A formula of 25%/75% (dividend/state services) can be sustained without “new revenues” (personal income tax or other tax).

A 25/75 formula can be maintained, would allow the Permanent Fund to grow, and result in larger dividends with each passing year.

A 50/50 formula requires “new revenue” measures 4 years from now and reduces the Permanent Fund growth as well as the dividend. This year’s “mega-PFD” is accomplished through a big $1 Billion bite out of savings.

Remember: 100% of the Permanent Fund earnings goes to “the people”, either as short-term cash dividend that they pay IRS taxes on, or as statewide services such as public safety, education, infrastructure.

IRS taxes paid on dividends results in Alaska money going out-of-state, not building our local economy. When the money is used for in-state services, it stays in our economy.

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

Homelessness is affecting all Anchorage citizens, some more than others, but everyone at some level.

I continue to urge expansion of mental health and behavioral health services. I have volunteered in a shelter setting and understand that many folks need these services. There are organizations working to expand these services, such as Catholic Social Services and Alaska Behavioral Health.

There are also folks who are working but can’t afford rent and housing payments. Efforts to expand low-cost housing are important and I applaud those efforts. I really appreciate the good work being done by such organizations as RurAL CAP, Revive Alaska, Alaska Housing Trust Authority and many other organizations and nonprofits in making lower cost housing and rent assistance available.

I am concerned that care is taken related to road projects, such as one in South Anchorage, that will remove some long-established low-cost housing. Road projects like this are not in the best interest of our community.

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

The abortion topic is complicated because it involves people. Each one of us is unique and our circumstances are unique.

Abortion is a very difficult, individual decision for anyone faced with an unplanned pregnancy. My values related to abortion are founded in my religious faith. I recognize that not everyone has these same beliefs.

Contraceptives should be widely and readily available. Treatment for ectopic pregnancies and miscarriages should be provided without hesitation. Increased demand for vasectomy procedures is a good thing. Alaska should establish abortion and contraceptive policies for our own state, not handed down from the federal government.

Anyone working in healthcare should be free to decline participation in abortion procedures without impacts on their employment.

I would support Alaska establishing a gestational age limit or viability limit beyond which “elective abortion” would not be available. Exceptions to the gestational age limit must be available for individual circumstances. About 20 states have “viability” limit. Most European countries identify a 12-week gestational age limit. At present, Alaska law allows late-term abortion.

A pregnant teen under the age of 18 should have parental involvement and consent prior to the abortion. I recognize that the ideal situation is not always possible, so another pathway should be provided.

All this said, I have an unwavering belief in God, who is the Creator. I believe each person is created by a loving God who is fully engaged in our lives, and that each person is of value. Therefore, I value life from conception to natural death.

Abortion is a very difficult, individual decision. Laws will never be perfect and should be made carefully, with wisdom and compassion. Medical care for pregnant women, regardless of the circumstances, should never be denied.

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

I support our Alaska Constitution Article 1, sec 19 Right to Keep and Bear Arms. In the past I have received A+ and A ratings from the NRA. I own firearms and have a conceal carry permit, having taken the coursework.

That said…

I support restrictions on firearm purchase and ownership by individuals with a mental health illness. Called “red flag laws”, these would be enacted when grounds exist for a temporary removal of firearms. A bill describing this was HB 75, 30th Legislature, which did not pass and should be considered again.

Universal background checks are a basic requirement.

“Ghost guns” (guns that have been modified to create a much deadlier firearm) should be regulated.

I support restricted purchase of AR-15 or military-style rifles to persons aged 25 and above. Exception for 18-year-olds in military service would be appropriate.

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

What a person believes affects everything they do. I look for leaders with moral character demonstrated by the courage to do the right thing regardless of the personal cost. Compassion, integrity, humility, diligence in service, respect for others and our environment, and gracious patience under pressure are essential traits for public service. These character traits describe a person conducting themselves as a servant, not seeking personal fame and fortune for themselves.

The “Golden Rule” summarizes respect for others. Most people, regardless of religious faith or atheism, understand this. “Hate” toward other people should have no place in public policy deliberation or decisions.

That said, none of us is perfect. Faith in the Creator can sometimes partially bring this kind of moral character…but no one, with religious faith or not, is perfect.

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

Alaska’s low teacher retention rate results in a teacher shortage. This has a direct impact on educational outcomes, and our children suffer as a result. Alaska’s teacher shortage reflects a national problem.

Many Alaska teachers are trained in the Lower 48. Retention could be increased by educating future teachers in-state, rather than in the Lower 48. The state needs to support the various local pathways to becoming a teacher, such as apprentice teachers-in-residence, and mentoring support. Alaska needs a path for teacher aides in rural Alaska to earn full teacher status.

The State retirement plan is an important part of employee pay checks. Right now, the state plan is a 401K. Previously Alaska had a very generous pension program referred to as “defined benefit”. The risk to a return to a defined benefit pension plan is cost.

Teacher salaries here are not keeping up with the Lower 48. Defined contribution retirement plans result in a less stable workforce than defined benefit plans such as exist in many other states. Alaska needs to increase targeted education spending and make the defined contribution retirement plan more attractive. (This underscores the importance of the 25% dividend rate of the Permanent Fund earnings.)

Employee groups have worked hard on retirement plan proposals in House Bill 55 and House bill 220 (32nd Legislature) that are said to be cost neutral. I don’t have enough information to draw conclusions about the proposals, but I am open to considering them.

What does an ideal state ferry system look like?

Ideally a state ferry system should serve a broad roadless, coastal area and cover system expenses through the fares. In reality, that’s not going to happen. Just as the State Dept. of Transportation provides pavement replacement and reconstruction for roads, bridges, and airports, the ferry system will continue to need state investment.

I believe that transportation infrastructure is a basic role of government. My impression is that the Alaska Marine Highway System needs much more oversight and management expertise than it has received. That said, I have never lived in SE Alaska, Kodiak, or Unalaska, nor am I a marine vessel expert.

I have watched transportation infrastructure funding become a political power game. That’s unacceptable and puts the safety and economic well-being of citizens in jeopardy.

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

Because voting involves people, it will never be possible to ensure equality and security. Since criminals are without a moral code and clever, there will always be fraud.

I see improvements being made continually. Translations of ballot language, notification of a mail ballot’s arrival, online access to voter registration and absentee ballot application – these are great improvements to equality of access.

I would advocate for deletion of automatic voter registration with PFD application.

Ballot harvesting (groups or organizations collecting and turning in individual voters’ completed election ballots) is currently legal in Alaska; I believe this practice should be made illegal.

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’m not a marine biologist, nor do I play one on TV. I am unqualified to do anything politically about salmon returns in any part of our state. We do, however, have very knowledgeable marine biologists employed by the State of Alaska. I rely on their expertise, rather than fabricate a theory of my own or make a political decision on a scientific matter.

An ongoing study of the interaction of Bristol Bay commercial fishing and the YK subsistence fishery will help inform a fair division of that commonly owned resource.

This is a very difficult topic. Bristol Bay communities rely on the commercial fishing economy; YK subsistence users rely on the traditional foods.

I’m certain a political decision, made by uninformed politicians does not hold the answer.

What constitutional amendments, if any, do you support?

  • Article 3, section 26: I support Legislative confirmation for appointments to the Permanent Fund Corporation board be added to Art. 3, sec. 26.
  • Article 6, section 8(b): I would support a more independent redistricting board created by changing the appointment process to replace what is in Art. 6, sec. 8 (b). Currently we have an independent board which draws legislative district lines. I believe the board would benefit from more representation and diversity in its membership. I think a board with equal representation from majority and minority parties would be an improvement.
  • Article 9 (a): Clarification is needed related to Constitutional Budget Reserve, as to what specific “settlement or otherwise, of an administrative proceeding or of litigation in a State or federal court…shall be deposited in the budget reserve fund.” The Judicial Branch may offer their clarification through a current lawsuit, but if not, an amendment should clarify whether Federal Energy Regulatory Commission decisions qualify, thereby putting settlement monies into the Constitutional Budget Reserve.
  • I don’t support a new constitutional amendment to require voter approval of new taxes or tax increases passed by the legislature. This additional requirement could be a tough nut to crack at times when revenues for state services are low and additional money is needed.

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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].