Juneau: Assembly race will have more impact than presidential election



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Win Gruening


While many Alaskans have concentrated on national politics and party conventions, this is the time of year when we should shift our focus for a period of time to our local municipal elections. Arguably, municipal races across the state will determine the make-up of our local Assemblies and have far more impact on us personally than who will be our country’s next president.

Assembly District 2

It’s been 10 years since all three Juneau Assembly seats have been seriously contested. This year will be no different as Beth Weldon will be running unopposed for the District 2 Assembly seat.

This is in stark contrast to elections in the ‘80s when it wasn’t unusual for four or five candidates to run for one Assembly seat. The reasons for this can be debated, but it’s easy to surmise the cost of campaigns and intense scrutiny have discouraged many people from running.

Nevertheless, our community can be happy someone as qualified as Beth Weldon decided to run. A lifelong resident of Juneau, she retired four years ago after a 22-year career as one of the few female firefighters in the Capital City Fire/Rescue department.

Weldon and her husband now own and operate a small business, Glacier Auto Parts. She has been very active in a variety of community organizations and with her business background and other experience, she’ll be a valuable addition to the Assembly.

Assembly Area-Wide

Voters will find some interesting match-ups in the other two Assembly races, making this election noteworthy. This is because the controversy surrounding the senior sales tax exemption and the special election are still fresh in voters’ minds from the mayoral election in March.

The senior community was particularly incensed by the scaled-back senior tax exemption because, while no one should be held harmless from potential cuts, seniors felt other cuts were a higher priority than ones impacting seniors. Furthermore, the action taken didn’t grandfather existing seniors or include a “phase-in” period allowing the senior community to adjust to these changes. In short, they felt the issue was handled poorly and not given proper consideration.

This galled many Juneauites because five of the Assembly members (Karen Crane, Kate Troll, Jesse Kiehl, Loren Jones, and Maria Gladziszewski) who voted to gut the senior sales tax exemption also voted for an expensive and needless special election just a few months later.

Both issues contributed to the defeat of mayoral candidate Karen Crane in the special election.

These issues come to the forefront again as incumbent Kate Troll runs for re-election against challenger Norton Gregory for the area-wide Assembly seat. Troll’s re-election effort has attracted support from former mayor Bruce Botelho who is chairing her campaign assisted by campaign manager Greg Smith, both of whom worked on Karen Crane’s campaign.

This will be a competitive race as Gregory previously ran against Maria Gladziszewski in 2014, only losing after splitting the votes in a 3-way contest. In that race, Gregory campaigned hard to maintain the senior sales tax exemption and he earned the Empire’s endorsement that stated in part that he “… would be a young Native voice on the Assembly” and “has the best background of the three areawide candidates … as housing services manager for the Tlingit-Haida Regional Housing Authority (and a member of the Affordable Housing Commission), he has seen and continues to see the problems with Juneau’s existing housing situation.”

Assembly District 1

Mary Becker is running for re-election to the downtown District 1 Assembly seat against two challengers, Arnold Liebelt and William Quayle Jr. Becker has been diligent and effective as an Assembly member and has run unopposed in her last two elections in 2013 and 2010.

Prior to her Assembly tenure, Becker was a Juneau school teacher for 30 years and later served for nine years on the Juneau School Board, four years as its president. She has also served as deputy mayor during her two previous Assembly terms and was acting Mayor after the untimely death of Mayor Greg Fisk last year. She voted against the special election and against ending the senior sales tax exemption.

In an interview announcing his decision to run against Becker, Liebelt, a former state budget policy analyst, stated, “With city finances, we’ve got to keep our revenues equaling expenditures.” That’s an unfortunate phrasing of his financial philosophy because if Liebelt hopes to attract area-wide support, he’ll need to convince voters he isn’t willing to raise taxes first before considering cuts to balance the budget.

Too often local elections are considered hum-drum affairs with little at stake. Nothing could be further from the truth. Supporting your candidate by volunteering and contributing financially makes a difference. More importantly, your vote on Oct. 4 will decide who makes decisions affecting you and your community for the next three years.

  • Win Gruening retired as the senior vice president in charge of business banking for Key Bank in 2012. He was born and raised in Juneau and graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1970. He is active in community affairs as a 30-plus year member of Juneau Downtown Rotary Club and has been involved in various local and statewide organizations.