Candidates for state House District 34 Bill Thomas (l) and Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins at the Sitka Chamber of Commerce. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

The two candidates for the newly-created House 34 legislative district met in Sitka yesterday (10-10-12), in a forum sponsored by the Sitka Chamber of Commerce.

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Rep. Bill Thomas, of Haines, is an eight-year veteran of the legislature, but a relative unknown – at least politically – in Sitka. The Republican served as co-chair of the House Finance Committee in the last session, and hopes his strong ties to the fishing industry and the Native community will win Sitkans over.

His opponent, 23-year-old Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins is a life-long Sitkan, the product of local schools and Yale University. Kreiss-Tomkins has been active in Democratic politics since childhood. He told the Sitka chamber that he’d like to restore integrity to state politics, and to protect the interests of Southeast Alaska.

The candidates answered a variety of questions prepared by the chamber, but used every opportunity to distinguish themselves from each other. Thomas emphasized his seniority on the Finance Committee, and the powerful partnership it would create if Sen. Bert Stedman – who co-chairs the same committee in the senate – were re-elected.

“Having people in Finance is the place to have your representatives and legislators. I look back to the days when you had Grussendorf and Eliason – great things happened in Sitka, and you have the chance to have it happen again. But you need to have people in the right spot and to understand what your issues are, and you’re not going to get a draft if you’re not in the majority or sitting on Finance. You can bring it up, but no one’s going to listen to you. I’ve been there too long to know. You’re voice is going to be silent.”

Kreiss-Tomkins indirectly criticized Thomas’s support of the governor’s proposed oil tax reform, which would ease taxes on Alaska’s major oil-field producers. He suggested that Thomas, and other legislators who supported House Bill 110 were putting the interests of the oil companies ahead of the interests of their districts.

“Alaska gets all its money from oil. We’re an oil state. And if we give away $2-billion a year, as the State House voted to do last session, we’ll have no money for renewable energy projects, we have no money for Blue Lake, we have no money for infrastructure and harbors, and marine services. So I think for Southeast Alaska as a whole to survive, we need investment in these core projects in communities, and we need money to make that investment. I’m strongly committed to making sure that Alaska has a strong financial future, by making sure that we protect our fair share of revenue from the oil that we, you and I, and the state of Alaska all own. And that means protecting oil revenue to make sure we can reinvest it in communities.”

Listen to all the answers offered by the candidates — sorted by question — here.

The candidates were also pushed into their corners by questions from the chamber audience which highlighted the four decades that separate the men. This is forum moderator Dan Jones.

Jones – What is your experience as an employer or business owner or manager, and what job experience do you have that qualifies you to create family-wage jobs in Southeast Alaska? Jonathan, you’re first.
Kreiss-Tomkins – One of the things that’s changed in America in the last few decades is if you want to go save the world it used to be that you’d go join up with some nonprofit – Oxfam, Red Cross, you name it – and go to Africa and try to provide humanitarian aid. And I think people in my generation approach problems in the world through an entrepreneurial lens, and that there’s tremendous potential through the private sector to affect major problems that we face. And the start-up culture is very much of my generation.
Thomas – Thank you. Over 65 years I’ve had many jobs to make ends meet. I’ve been a fisherman for 43 years, but I learned right away that what I made in fishing didn’t get me past Christmas. So I worked in a sawmill, I was a logger, bartender, longshoreman. I did whatever I could to keep food on my table – again, raising children. I had two, then three, then four, then five. I was never afraid of work, I have a strong work ethic taught to me by my uncle. I was involved in a village corporation, and created hundreds of jobs, both in logging and in longshoring, and know what it takes to sit in a room and create economic opportunity for the working man.

Republican Bill Thomas and Democrat Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins are vying to represent the newly-formed House District 34, which includes the communities of Sitka, Haines, Angoon, Kake, and Hydaburg.

The general election is Tuesday, November 6.

Thomas and Kreiss-Tomkins will participate in a forum hosted by Sitka High Student Government Thursday evening, October 11, 2012, beginning at 6:30 PM, in the Sitka Performing Arts Center. The public is welcome to attend in person. Raven Radio will broadcast the forum live until 8 PM.