THE LIBERAL ENCLAVE IN DISTRICT 31 WAS OUT IN FORCE
In Homer, Alaska, 308 people attended the town hall with Rep. Sarah Vance at the Kachemak Bay campus of Kenai Peninsula College on Saturday.
Roughly 80 percent of those attending were unhappy with the governor’s budget, which is $1.6 billion smaller than the budget proposed by former Gov. Bill Walker.
They were also unhappy that Vance was before them as a state representative, rather than former Rep. Paul Seaton, who Vance beat by 55 to 44 percent in November.
Many who spoke were distraught. Several were angry, their voices shaking as they tried to control their rage. Some cried, others interrupted Vance, and a few frothed as they demanded that she work to tax oil companies more, institute an income tax, and use some of the Permanent Fund dividend to pay for government.
They exhibited all the early stages of grief for a state that has run out of money to spend, and a governor not willing to reach into people’s pockets for more.
There was not just disapproval, but palpable hatred in the air at the Homer town hall. What was to be a “conversation” turned into a browbeating by the Left against an upstart Republican who had the support of a large majority of her district’s voters — just not those in Homer.
Clearly, the average Homer attendee did not accept the Nov. 6 election. They didn’t get their choice — Mark Begich for governor — and they don’t like Gov. Michael Dunleavy, who won over Begich, 51 to 44 percent.
They did not vote for Vance, and they are in disbelief that she won.
One member in the crowd asked Vance why she didn’t start with the budget of former Gov. Bill Walker, the governor who didn’t run for reelection because he and his administration had collapsed in failure.
Vance held her own. Without any staff to assist her, and without police presence in the room (as Rep. Gary Knopp had two weeks ago at his Kenai town hall), she answered questions calmly and compassionately, while facing a hostile crowd that could barely contain its anger.
She never broke a sweat, but she teared up at one point with emotion as she looked out at the teachers in the room and empathized with their pain and their fear of the unknown for what budget cuts mean in their classrooms. After all, she has children in the Homer public school system as well.
Many in the room — as many as 60 percent — were teachers [edit: or with the education community], and there were some well-coached students who spoke from scripts.
A couple of members of the Homer City Council attended and muttered — within earshot of others — that Vance was dumber than a box of rocks. They walked out early.
A common theme in Homer was that Vance was not representing their viewpoints or their needs. They wanted no cuts to government, just new revenues, especially on oil companies, and a progressive income tax for Alaskan workers.
Vance said that she doesn’t consider an income tax as a source of revenue she would support, as that’s not what the voters mandated in November. Vance also offered that the most an income tax could generate would be about $350 million, not nearly enough to cover anything but the basic inflation and rising health care costs for school staff.
The budget deficit Alaska faces is so large, in fact, that it would take $2,171 from every man, woman, and child in Alaska to cover it, or nearly $8,700 from a family of four. In a state that has 220,000 people on Medicaid, that amount would fall on the shoulders of just those who are working, and would go well into five figures per family.
Vance explained that government is already using a portion of the Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve Account to pay for government services.
The crowd didn’t hear her, however. They were not really there to listen; they were there to tell her how to do things their way, and some of them resorted to shouting at her to shut up and listen to them.
Why did Dunleavy dismantle the Walker Climate Change Task Force, they asked. Does she support the governor’s budget – yes or no? Why wasn’t she using the “four pillar” tax plan of former Rep. Paul Seaton?
The few supporters there were in the audience remained mainly quiet, not prone to the theatrics of the opposition.
Vance had a more courteous reception when she held a town hall meeting in Ninilchik on Friday. Although people in the northern part of District 31 had opinions and concerns about budget cuts, particularly for education, they didn’t present as a seething mob.
When asked by a reporter how she had been able to maintain her composure and compassion during the Homer town hall meeting, Vance said, “I have people praying for me and that really makes a difference.”