During Tuesday’s forum with Juneau’s legislative candidates, the candidates spoke in particular about Alaska’s youngest and oldest residents.
Issues of daycare, education funding and services for retirees came up repeatedly throughout the forum, which was put on by the League of Women Voters of Juneau, Juneau Votes!, the Empire and KTOO.
Empire state reporter James Brooks moderated the forum at the KTOO building, and asked the six candidates what they thought were the most essential services the state provides. All of them mentioned education as one of the state’s most valuable services.
Multiple candidates said that from talking with people around town, they’ve heard that the state’s regulations have been too strict for some local childcare providers.
Both candidates in the District 34 race, Republican Jerry Nankervis and Democrat Andi Story, agreed that it’s important to closely examine the state’s regulations when it comes to early childhood care. Story — a 15-year member of the Juneau Board of Education who attended her final meeting as a board member just before Tuesday’s forum — also said childcare workers need to have competitive wages.
District 33 Democratic candidate Sara Hannan, a former teacher in the Juneau School District, said multiple times that the state needs to start early in an attempt to better prepare children for school.
“I want the state to have a state-operated preschool program,” Hannan said. “Not mandatory, but I want 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds who currently arrive as kindergartners and first-graders without the skills to succeed to have the opportunity to get them if they don’t come from a home that can.”
District 33 independent candidate Chris Dimond said he’d like to see the state pursue more grants for education as well.
Senate District Q independent candidate Don Etheridge said twice that the state can’t forget about vocational training as well as more traditional education. Democratic Senate District Q candidate Jesse Kiehl and Nankervis both said it’s vital to produce Alaska-grown teachers through the University of Alaska’s College of Education.
After talking about how best to get Alaskans started in life, the candidates moved on to talk about how best to make sure Alaskans’ later stage of life goes well.
Alaska’s population is getting increasingly older, and Etheridge and Dimond both said retirees deserve credit for the work they’ve done to build the young state. Dimond said people in the workforce should shoulder more of the burden than those who are on fixed incomes.
“(Retirees) should have a reduced tax system in the state,” Dimond said. “The infrastructure we’re all utilizing should not fall on those that have charted a path in this state and paid for the services we grew up on. It’s now our turn to take care of those services on ourselves and not depend on retirees to be paying out of their limited incomes to fund services for us, who are capable and able to work.”
Providing better retirement benefits can pay off on multiple levels, many of the candidates agreed. Better retirement benefits can encourage people to come to Alaska and stay, multiple people said, and they especially talked about benefits for police officers. Police chiefs, including Juneau Police Department Chief Ed Mercer, have said the state’s poor retirement packages are a key reason why departments have had a hard time recruiting and retaining officers. All of the candidates said they would make competitive retirement packages a priority.
The hour-and-a-half forum was wide-ranging in its topics and covered everything from oil tax philosophies, budgetary priorities, how the state could respond if Roe v. Wade were overturned and more. You can find it archived on JuneauEmpire.com and the Empire’s and KTOO’s Facebook pages.
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.