Rep. Sam Kito III ended months of speculation in a Monday interview with the Juneau Empire by declaring he will not run for re-election this fall.
“As of last Friday, my position is that I am not intending on running for either the House or the Senate,” Kito said in a Monday interview.
How firm is that decision?
“I guess I’d say very close to 100 percent,” he said.
He will remain in office and continue to serve his district until the end of the term, he said.
Kito, who represents Haines, Gustavus and downtown Juneau as a Democrat, is the sole single parent in the Alaska Legislature. He has repeatedly said he feels he is unable to put his daughter through college on a lawmaker’s salary, and he repeated those comments Monday.
“At this point, I can’t make that commitment to run for office considering my personal financial circumstances,” he said.
In January, the State Officers Compensation Commission recommended revoking per diem expense payments for lawmakers who live within 50 miles of the Legislature’s meeting place. As long as the Legislature remains in Juneau, that means only the capital city’s three lawmakers will lose their per diem.
Lawmakers had 60 days to pass legislation rejecting the commission’s recommendations; that deadline passed last week without action, spurring Kito’s announcement.
For Kito, the Legislature’s failure to act amounts to a pay cut of more than $32,000. According to the annual compensation report published by the Alaska Legislature in January, Kito accepted his regular salary of $50,400 and $32,088 in per diem expense payments during 2017. (He also spent $7,236 on reimbursable travel and had access to a $12,000 office expense account.)
In comparison, Rep. Justin Parish, D-Juneau, and Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, accepted per diem payments of $25,687 and $27,194, respectively.
With per diem payments revoked, the salary of Kito’s replacement will be more than $30,000 below the average household income in House District 33. According to the most recent available information from the U.S. Census, the average household income in Kito’s district is $89,551.
If anyone thinks lawmakers are getting rich off their salaries, “they are very much mistaken,” Kito told the Empire in January.
According to Kito’s most recent financial disclosure (released last week), Kito collects rent from his father, lobbyist Sam Kito Jr., but he has no other income beyond his salary and Permanent Fund Dividend.
The Alaska Constitution says lawmakers should be part-time, citizen legislators, but Kito testified in the House Labor and Commerce Committee earlier this year that the extraordinary length of legislative sessions over the past three years has meant he has not been able to bill a single hour of work to his engineering firm during that period.
“At this point I’m just thinking about making money and putting my daughter through college,” Kito said Monday.
To date, two people have filed to run in this fall’s election for Kito’s seat: independent Chris Dimond and Democrat Sara Hannan.
“I don’t have any plans on coming out supporting or opposing anybody during the primary election. I may change that during the general election. I just have to see where I’m at and where the race is at,” Kito said.
Asked about his plans after the election, Kito had a ready answer.
“What would I do? Go get a job,” he said.
Kito’s colleagues had high praise for a man who was appointed to his seat in 2014 but twice won re-election.
“I hate to see him go, but I understand. He’s a single father with a daughter going to an expensive college, and that’s tough,” said Egan.
Egan himself has said he also will not run for re-election this fall.
“Money shouldn’t be a barrier to public service,” said Parish. “Unfortunately, it often is. Many are unable to run. Other diligent public servants like Rep. Kito leave state service for financial reasons.”
“I would wish Sam the best of luck in all of his future adventures,” Dimond said.
“Sam has served us well and I wish him well,” Hannan said.
She also predicted that she and Dimond will soon have more competition for the seat. June 1 is the filing deadline for prospective candidates.
“It’s still a long time to the filing deadline, and I anticipate I’ll have a primary challenger at some point,” she said.
“I wish Mr. Kito the best regards in his next endeavor.”
• Contact reporter James Brooks at email@example.com or 523-2258.