Sitkans took their first look this week at Bill Thomas, the Haines legislator who hopes to represent Sitka when district boundaries are redrawn in the Alaska legislature next year.

Thomas, a Republican, has been in the legislature since 2004, where he’s currently the co-chair of the House Finance Committee. He addressed Sitka’s Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday (11-30-11).

See Bill Thomas’s complete legislative bio.

Thomas is the only candidate to file for what will likely become House District 34, which combines some communities from the old House District 5, which included Haines, Hoonah, Kake, and Angoon, with some communities from the old House District 2, which included Sitka, Pelican, and Port Alexander.

Sitka’s current representative, Peggy Wilson, lives in Wrangell, which will join Ketchikan in a new House District 33. Wilson has declared her intention to seek office, but has not announced if she will challenge Ketchikan representative Kyle Johansen, or Sitka senator Bert Stedman.

The redrawn district lines likely will make Stedman the favorite to retain his senate seat. Thomas spent much of his chamber presentation emphasizing his working relationship with Stedman, including some behind-the-scenes maneuvering to pass some harbor funding during Thomas’s first term

“I was a freshman, and chairman of Community and Regional Affairs (committee). And Bert said I’ve got this bill to do harbor maintenance. You run it in the House, and I’ll run it in the Senate. So we got my bill up to Rules (committee). Once it gets to Rules, it’s just waiting to be scheduled to go to the floor. Well, this senator who sits on Finance came in and said, Where’s my bill? I said It’s dead. He said I’m a senator. I said I don’t care, I’m chairman of the committee and it’s not going anywhere. He said, I see your harbor bill sitting in Rules. It’s dead when it comes to the Senate. So, I tippy-toed over to Bert’s office and said, The Senator’s going to kill my bill. He said, What are you going to do? Send your bill over, and keep mine in Rules. So he did, and it became the vehicle on the House side after it passed the Senate. I stood up and spoke for it. The guy never knew what happened. I thought that was rather crafty.”

Thomas said that he did not create much legislation, but instead worked with others on bills that were important to the region. He discussed his involvement in a renewable energy bill, tax credits for fish processors, and making sure active-duty military personnel were fairly represented in child custody hearings.

Thomas admitted to knowing nothing about the oil and gas industry, but the lifelong commercial fisherman referred at least twice to the state’s fisheries as “our only renewable resource.” He said had worked to boost the Alaska Department of Fish & Game’s budget by nearly $1-million to improve the management of wild stocks in Kodiak.

Thomas also stressed his commitment to supporting the state-owned salmon hatcheries in Southeast Alaska which are run by the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association. He said he thought any state funding spent on hatcheries should be offset by allowing commercial fishermen a greater proportion of the subsequent returns.