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Assembly forum recap: Candidates look for fresh ideas

Assembly candidates (l to r) Steven Eisenbeisz, Ben Miyasato, and Aaron Swanson take listener calls on Thursday (9-26-13). (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

Assembly candidates (l to r) Steven Eisenbeisz, Ben Miyasato, and Aaron Swanson take listener calls on Thursday (9-26-13). (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

Sitka voters will select two new Assembly members on October 1st. Late last week, the three people who want those jobs made their pitch to the public.

Aaron Swanson, Ben Miyasato, and Steven Eisenbeisz took questions during KCAW’s live on-air forum Thursday night (9-26-13).

They heard from a wide range of callers, including skeptical voters and one woman who identified herself as “Granny Goose.”


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One of the most common arguments candidates for office make is that they’re different. Elect me, they say, because I bring something to the table that isn’t already there.

So it was fitting, then, that one of the earliest questions to come in from a listener to Thursday night’s forum dealt with that difference. What is the current Assembly doing that you don’t like, the listener wrote. He asked the candidates to “be specific.”

Aaron Swanson took aim at utility bills, and said as they increase, life gets harder for younger families like his, whose incomes aren’t terribly disposable.

“That’s something the city could also look into — putting a budget plan (together), where you take all your bills and figure out how much you’re going to be spending per year, and have a balanced bill each month, and maybe one catch-up bill in the middle of the summer, when your heating is going to be down.”

The city is raising rates to help pay for a massive expansion to the Blue Lake hydroelectric dam. Steven Eisenbeisz also agreed that raising electric rates was something he didn’t like.

“However, at this point we are too far into the Blue Lake dam project to not finish this. Raising the rates, as bad as it might have been for many people in town, is at this point, an absolute necessity. We can’t spend as much money as we already have and simply give up on it. We have to continue at this point.”

For Ben Miyasato, it was the budget. He said he’d like the city to be more careful about how it uses its money.

“Spending. I hear the same thing about spending. Please keep that in mind — don’t spend what you don’t have, and to start putting some aside.”

It’s all well and good to ask candidates what’s bugging them. But listeners also wanted to know what the Assembly candidates were going to do about it. One asked what fresh ideas they would bring to the Assembly table.

Ben Miyasato says he’s interested in the idea of building a road across Baranof Island, to connect to a ferry terminal closer to the Marine Highway’s main thoroughfare. He’d also favor a marina on the eastern Baranof shore.

“If you have a dock over across the island, you’ll be able to have other communities that will be able to take their own personal watercraft a shorter distance and be able to get on the road system over here to Sitka, to be able to use such things as the hospital, shopping. It opens it up for more public access.”

Aaron Swanson says he’d like to have a sawmill in Sitka again, using local timber.

“You could use that lumber, you could probably sell it cheap, and use it to build affordable housing. Another new and fresh idea would be adding a dock out at Sawmill Cove Industrial Park for the fishing fleet that could be coming in after a major boat haul-out.”

And Steven Eisenbeisz says he wants to look at the city’s water supply.

“One new and fresh idea that I’ve heard around town, and is actually rapidly gaining steam around the country, is about the fluoride that we have in our water here.”

Eisenbeisz says he’s heard studies that say fluoride is a poison, while others disagree. And he says consumer filters to remove fluoride from water are expensive.

“Plus, the city pays a substantial amount of money every year to add fluoride. I’d like to see if there’s community support behind removing fluoride.”

If you were worried about the forum being bound up on complicated policy and wonky budget talk, you needed look no further than minute 52.

“Hi, Steven, this is Granny Goose.”

That’s Eisenbeisz’s grandmother, Eleanor King, fresh off the plane from California.

“I just got in tonight, and I wanted to say hi to you…”

She also had a question.

“Did you have any ideas or thoughts about the tourism here? What you were going to do for them?”

Eisenbeisz said he’d like to see Sitka better marketed.

“Sitka is one of the most historical towns in Alaska, and we don’t tell that story adequately. Juneau has a much more limited history, although they did have a lot of gold mining, and they tell their story a lot better to see this gold mining.”

Miyasato says he’d target marketing toward nations with emerging economies, whose citizens are starting to acquire disposable income, like China.

“Their middle class is one of the fastest growing on this planet, and when you get more over there in their population that are having expendable dollars or yen or wan or whatever their currency is, this is something to look at as to whether we should be expanding marketing for tourism dollars to come here to Alaska.”

Swanson says he’d like to bring cruise executives to Sitka and ask them what we can do to better attract their customers to town.

“And probably add tour agents, travel agents. Have them all come up to Sitka, have the Assembly and the Sitka Convention and Visitors Bureau get a work session going, find out what we can do here in Sitka to help promote more cruise ships coming to Sitka.”

Of the three candidates running for Assembly, only two appear on the ballot. Miyasato and Swanson’s names will be printed on the ballot handed to voters on October 1st.

Eisenbeisz is running as a write-in candidate.

Election day is October 1st.

Listen to the entire Assembly Candidate Forum, Part 1, Part 2.

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