State Representative Peggy Wilson is in Sitka until Wednesday. It’s part of a two-day visit by the six-term legislator.
Because of redistricting, the Wrangell Republican will no longer represent Sitka after the next election. She talked to KCAW on Monday about many issues, including redistricting.
“Well, it’s definitely overwhelming,” she said of the new district boundaries.
For 12 years, the Wrangell Republican has represented Sitka. But the lines have been redrawn, which puts Wrangell in the same legislative district as Ketchikan. Wilson says, it’s a big change.
“I know the people in my district. I know the players. I kind of know how they feel about things, and even if I don’t get to see them as much, I still know the way they feel,” she said. “So I’m going to have to relearn. Because of all the district, in that new District 33, there’s 17,000 people, and I only have 2,000 that I had before.”
Wilson will now be in a district with Ketchikan, which will see her running against state Rep. Kyle Johansen, among others, for the Republican nomination to the seat. It’s been a turbulent year for Johansen, politically. He forfeited his leadership position in a fallout with the Republican caucus, which spurred an unsuccessful recall effort against him.
“I really hate the whole situation, because Kyle and I are friends,” she said. “It’s going to be difficult for me to go in and run against somebody that I know, and that I feel is a friend. That’s going to be rather awkward, but it’s something I have finally decided I am going to do, and we’ll just have to see how it turns out.”
But for now, and through all of next year, Wilson will still represent House District 2, including Sitka. And she says there are lots of issues to address in the next legislative session, which is just over a month away.
One of those issues will likely be ferry service. The Alaska Department of Transportation is revising its regional plan, which includes some big changes to the Alaska Marine Highway System.
The options propose new routes, and in one case, a road across Baranof Island to a ferry terminal on the other side. The road would be part of a larger plan to create shorter ferry runs across Chatham Strait.
On Monday, Wilson said there’s still a lot to learn.
“You know, I don’t think we’ve looked into it enough to know all the details enough to say, ‘Oh, this would be a better option than something else,'” she said.
The bottom line, she says, is that a place like Sitka needs to consider its geography when it comes to ferry service.
“I think Sitka needs to really look at where they’re situated, the cost of going around,” she said. “But there again, it’s going to be a cost going across, also, and an inconvenience. My thought is to let the people decide and whatever they decide I’ll get behind them and support them as much as I can.”
Another issue this year could be coastal management. Last year, legislators did away with Alaska’s coastal management program, which gives municipalities a say in development plans for coastal zones. Wilson says she would have liked to have seen the program stay in place. Gov. Sean Parnell said he doesn’t plan to introduce legislation to resurrect the program, and so a citizen’s initiative is moving forward to put the matter before the voters. Wilson says she doesn’t know if that will help.
“The initiative is going way beyond where a lot of people felt comfortable, so I have no idea how it’s going to turn out. I think we need it, but I think the initiative is probably going to be pushing it beyond where a lot of people can vote for it,” she said.
The proposed initiative calls for a board to provide local input on coastal management plans, and gives that board a say on plans that address coastal uses that might raise concerns based on science or local knowledge.