The race to replace long-serving City and Borough of Juneau Assembly Member Loren Jones, who is barred from seeking an additional term due to term limits, is heating up.
First-time CBJ Assembly candidate Barbara Blake joined the race last week, setting up a head-to-head contest with school board member Paul Kelly, who declared his candidacy in May.
Blake, the Director of the Alaska Native Policy Center with the First Alaskans Institute since 2019, has lived in Juneau for the last six years. She also lived in Juneau as a student and as a young child. She is a mother to a teenage son and a 7-year-old foster daughter.
“This community is important to me. This is the first place I called home with my son,” Blake said in a phone interview last week.
Blake said that she is of Haida, Tlingit and Ahtna Athabascan descent and that her family is from Prince of Wales Island.
“My heart is in Southeast,” she said.
Blake said she threw her hat into the ring to add more voices to the assembly’s decision-making and to increase community engagement.
“There’s a striking lack of diversity on the board. I felt like it was time for more voices,” she said.
Blake said that community members had previously asked her to consider a run and that the current timing seems right to serve.
“I’ve been watching this assembly for a while,” she said, noting that current assembly members “have a solid way of communicating” but can do a better job of better engaging community members.
She cited the city’s recent decision to redirect a $2 million donation from Norweigan Cruise Line to the Juneau Community Foundation rather than accept it on behalf of the city as an example of a situation that may have benefited from additional community engagement.
“The $2 million could have used a lot more community voices,” she said. “I agreed with the assembly. But, I would have wanted to hear more community voices in that space.”
Blake brings extensive experience to her bid for the office.
In addition to her work with the First Alaskans Institute, she serves on the Sealaska Board of Directors and has worked in governmental affairs.
According to her online Sealaska profile, from 2015 to 2019, she was the director of Native and rural affairs for former Gov. Bill Walker and worked as a senior staff member for Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Previous positions include the government affairs liaison for Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, work with the USDA Office of the Secretary in Washington, D.C., and a stint as an assistant professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Blake holds both a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in rural development from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and certificates in tribal business law and Indianpreneurship.
She said that economic development is an important issue facing the city and that her related background is a crucial part of her qualifications for the job.
“Tourism is fragile,” she said. “We should be thinking about different partnerships and Juneau’s people.”
Blake said that she did not support any recent petitions to limit large cruise ship travel to Juneau. The petitions failed to gather enough signatures to make the ballot this fall.
“I appreciate that they raised the conversation,” she said. “It was the worst year to introduce that. But, it’s worth a conversation.”
In addition, Blake has a particular interest in assisting the city’s unsheltered population.
“I’ve really been thinking about how to best serve in the policy space. One is homelessness. I don’t have solutions but would love to lend my voice,” she said.
Child care is another policy issue that’s important to Blake.
“There have to be solutions out there. I’m willing to lend my thoughts on that,” she said, noting that the cost of child care in Juneau can be prohibitive for families.
“I appreciate where the assembly is going on things. The fact that they have a committee on child care and thinking through as a whole. The tribe is doing some pretty cool stuff in this area, and I’d like to add my parenting perspective.”
On the issues
During the interview, Blake weighed in on issues the assembly has recently voted on, including the changes to fireworks policies.
“I agree with what the assembly decided. Loud, booming noises are hard,” she said. However, Blake said that the money raised by Tlingit and Haida, which sold fireworks for personal use ahead of the July 4 holiday last year, has been used to support the community.
If elected, Blake will be part of a cohort of assembly members that will receive the first pay increase since 1994. She said the increased pay reflects the work that goes into the job and accounts for people’s time.
“I’m glad it got raised,” she said. “But, that was not part of my decision to run.”
Blake said that she supports the assembly’s recent move to reduce the property tax mill rate. Earlier this month, assembly members agreed to reduce the mill rate for the 2021 property tax levy to 10.56, a .10 reduction based on what the finance committee passed in late May as part of the annual budget process.
“It was a little up in the air for me. I’m wondering what the Legislature is going to do. But, I’m supportive of where they landed on that,” she said.
Outside of work
Blake said that her family enjoys hunting and fishing. In addition, she said they are part of several local dance groups and take advantage of the many trails offered around town.
“I’m a huge fan of so many trails. We hike East Glacier a lot. We use Brotherhood, Airport and Herbert Glacier trails when biking. I love Perseverance and Dupont trails,” she said.
Blake said that she and her fiance and children head to Donna’s Restaurant, The Island Pub, Suwanna Thai Cafe and La Salsa when hungry.
• Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at firstname.lastname@example.org or 907-308-4891.