The one-term incumbent didn’t re-file for her seat last year, but had second thoughts and opted to run as a write-in candidate – and won a partial one-year term.
Hackett is one of five candidates hoping to fill three vacancies on the Sitka assembly.
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Hackett says she also had doubts this year about entering the race, but took the plunge anyway.
“It was a tough decision to run. It’s a tough time economically, which causes a fair bit of angst in the community, and sometimes that’s hard to jump into. But I’ve been there for four years now, and I realize that there are some very complex issues that we’re grappling with right now, and the solutions aren’t clearly recognizable. So it seems to me that it’s really important to have somebody on the assembly with some historical knowledge.”
Hackett is talking about “institutional knowledge,” but she’s got a long history in Sitka. She arrived here in 1972 from California, and stayed put. She and her husband, Mark Hackett, a pilot for Harris Air, have raised two children.
Phyllis Hackett says she recalls a Sitka in 1972 that was pretty much a logging town, with a bit more money flowing around, a bit wilder atmosphere.
As an assembly member, she sees things differently now.
“One of the things that we’re struggling with here is that our rates for everything have not gone up for a long, long time. They haven’t even kept up with normal inflation. So we’ve fallen behind in that arena, not the mention the hard economic times in our country, and around the world, for that matter, that are now starting to affect us here in Sitka.”
Hackett also recalls very few paved roads in Sitka forty years ago. Not that she’s advocating a return to that situation, though. With road maintenance, harbors, and hydro power topping Sitka’s list of anticipated expenses, she primarily wants the public to become involved in finding solutions.
“There’s going to have to be a lot of compromise, in every direction. And the only way we’ll be able to do that is if everybody participates. So I’m hoping we can get some good public engagement to help us with these issues.”
On Sitka’s routine budget problems, Hackett favors a “middle-of-the-road” approach: curtailing some services, and increasing revenues – at least to keep up with inflation. Regarding Sitka’s biggest problem – funding the Blue Lake Hydro expansion – she’s hoping to press the project’s environmental advantages.
“I’m still hopeful that we can convince the federal government that alpine hydro is renewable, clean, and not bad for our environment. And therefore they should be helping to fund some of this. That’s been an uphill battle, but other than that, we’re going to have to go back to the state with our hand out saying, Please give us some more, and we’re also going to have to raise rates, but we don’t want to raise rates. It’s a conundrum.”
Hackett believes that without boosting our electrical supply, Sitka can’t bring in new industry, and can’t grow. She’s not going to make a similar argument for a downtown cruise dock, however. Here, she’s just not convinced it will work.
“It doesn’t mean that I’m against the tourism industry, because I certainly am not. I spend a lot of time downtown, I love the tourists. They’re always happy, they love our town, so I love to talk about it to them. But a deepwater dock downtown: I don’t believe there’s any proof, and we’ve got no guarantees that it’s going to make any difference. Yet I think that it will alter the face and heart of Sitka forever. And I think that’s a really big price to pay for something that we have no guarantee for.”
Hackett thinks Sitka’s overall economic condition right now is less-than-vibrant, but still strong. She considers downtown to be the heart of the community, and she would like to see more stores with their lights on in the off-season, serving the needs of Sitkans – and more Sitkans, to be fair, shopping locally and supporting the community. That’s another memory she carries from the 1970s in Sitka.
Still, Hackett considers herself an optimist. The only thing lately that keeps her up nights is the Sealaska lands bill, which she sees as hugely divisive. She’s hopeful that on this – and all the major issues facing Sitka –people get some education, be respectful, and jump in.
That might explain a lot about her decision to run again for assembly.
“It’s not easy, and it’s not fun, but it is challenging. It keeps me intellectually and mentally stimulated – which is always a good thing for me – and I think it’s important to see it through at least as far as I can.”
And at least voters will be able to see her name on the ballot.
The municipal election in Sitka will be held on Tuesday, October 2nd.
Ed Ronco contributed to this story.