Alaska in Brief

Q&A with Alaska Senate District J candidate Drew Cason

By: - July 28, 2022 12:33 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.

Drew Cason, 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?


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


Should new public employees have access to a pension?


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?

Via formula (not based on what is left over after paying for services). My preference would be 50% of the POMV draw, but that would also require revenue (taxes). If there is not the political will to consistently afford the 50% figure, then we should set it at 1/3 or 1/4 of the POMV draw, or even eliminate the PFD program. The legislature needs to act, and take responsibility for whichever choice it makes. The fact that any path forward will piss off a lot of voters is not a good reason to refuse to move forward while pointing fingers that the lack of progress is someone else’s fault.

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

I have neighbors who feel many different ways about this. Crime/theft/public safety, PFDs, and kids have come up the most often as clear cut ‘most important’ issues, in that order.

On crime, we need more substance abuse treatment beds (and to improve/overhaul API, which is in our district) because drugs are driving a lot of it and unless we address the demand side of the equation more effectively, real progress will elude us. Reducing the cost of housing would help with that, as would more effective rehabilitation in prison (we need inmates to be released LESS likely to commit crimes, not more deeply embedded in criminal culture). We need to strengthen our sense of community in our neighborhoods, as well as improve the relationship between our BIPOC community and law enforcement. But most of the folks who are really concerned about crime want more consequences for people committing them, and I can think of a few examples recently where I agree.

I addressed the PFD in the previous response (and this is my personal #1 issue).

On kids, I have heard about everything from the cost of childbirth (having not had kids of my own, I was shocked), to Pre-K (I’m a huge proponent), to improving K-12 education (I don’t think a “silver bullet” answer exists, but agree it is a priority).

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

First, I support providing long-term reversible birth control. Colorado demonstrated very clearly that doing so drives down the rate of teen pregnancy and abortions tremendously.

Second, I think that pregnant women are the best positioned to make decisions about all aspects of their pregnancy, including terminating it. Many pro-choice messages get conflated with a lack of concern about abortion, when in reality, it is frequently an incredibly difficult decision with a variety of health and life considerations the legislature is ill-positioned to make blanket policies on. I certainly support mothers who choose to risk their life in childbirth with complications, I just don’t think the State should tell them they have to.

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

I am intrigued by the idea of liability insurance with guns; responsible gun owners’ guns are well secured and unlikely to be directed aggressively at people, so they should be cheap to insure. On the other hand, a small number of guns with a lot of characteristics in common kill a bunch of Americans each year.

I am skeptical of the State making decisions for individuals about something which is an explicit constitutional right; but no other country seems to cope with our level of mass shootings, and I don’t think we should shrug and wash our hands of it.

Lastly, this is another good reason to improve our capacity for mental health services.

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

I believe representative democracy demands relativism from our elected representatives. I don’t care where a preference comes from, just that it is earnestly held. I think ignoring any constituent’s preferences because they are religious or secular is an abrogation of duty.

But I also don’t believe that elected officials should just do what the majority of their constituents want in every instance (because sometimes a majority of people want impossible or mutually exclusive things)

So I don’t think that legislators should privilege their religious-inspired policy preferences over those stemming from other rationales, but neither do I think they have an obligation to attempt to ignore or treat those preferences as lesser than secularly-inspired preferences.

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

I have heard from people in education, local government, and neighbors that a defined benefit/pension style retirement is the #1 priority with the State for improving recruitment and retainment of public employees, including teachers.

What does an ideal state ferry system look like?

It meets the needs of our coastal communities while being a fun and attractive way for people from outside to see the Southern coast of Alaska.

I am interested in exploring a state-owned corporation model (like the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation) because I think it could be more creative and more ambitious than it is reasonable to expect when run out of the Dept of Transportation and Public Facilities.

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

I would like to see an “I would like to vote by mail” option added to the PFD voter registration system so you can automatically get your ballot in the mail. I am concerned that with Anchorage local elections and the most recent statewide election both being automatically vote by mail, some folks won’t realize that for the upcoming state elections you have to request to vote by mail in advance.

In the recent State vote by mail election, a large number of rural ballots in particular were tossed for lack of a witness signature (the requirement had been waived for a prior election b/c COVID) I don’t know that we need to get rid of the witness requirement, but we could provide give the opportunity to correct that sort of error to ensure that every interested and eligible voter’s voice is included in our elections.

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 support an increased role for local users in fisheries management. Those fish are subject to bycatch regulations that those users get little to no say in, I think they should have a seat at the table.

What constitutional amendments, if any, do you support?

I love the Alaska Constitution as it is written.

The only amendment I support sending to voters would add the PFD to the constitution. If voters approved it, that would set a clear directive to the legislature about Alaskans’ priorities and leave the Legislature to cut spending or raise taxes to address any revenue shortfalls in the future. This would hugely simplify the remaining debates about the budget.

I don’t think that amendment would pass (at any specific PFD level, though 50% of POMV seems to have the best chance) but that in itself would be valuable feedback from Alaskans about how they want the Legislature to proceed.

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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].