The area’s local delegation to the state legislature got an earful of advice, bits of criticism and fielded some tough, straight to the point questions last Saturday at a town hall meeting held at the Chugiak-Eagle River Senior Center.
The Bill Stoltze Dining Hall was crowded from 2 to well past 4 p.m. – the time period allotted by the senior center for the meeting. At 4:15 p.m., Rep. Dan Saddler, R-13, who chaired the event told the gathered crowd he would stay as late as necessary to get through all of their comments but then asked those not wanting to finish the event to take their side conversations out of the dining hall to reduce the distraction for those still attentive to the meeting. There were still more than 30 names on the sign-up list provided for citizens that wanted to speak and the dining hall needed to be cleared for a resident potluck beginning in about an hour.
“I will stay and talk as long as it takes,” Saddler told the crowd that had expressed dissatisfaction with the rate of progress through the list of names.
Saddler’s colleagues – Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-District F; Sen. Anna MacKinnon, R-District G; Rep. Lora Reinbold, R-District 14 and Rep. Cathy Tilton, R- District 12 – stayed at the front table as well.
The two hours previous had featured citizen comment and questions focused on the topics one might expect considering the state’s pending fiscal crisis: protection of the Permanent Fund, what cuts to make and what cuts not to make, implementation of taxes and the ever present elephant not just in that room, but lurking across the state: will the ideologically split Legislature be able to make any progress in the current legislative session?
The answer: Perhaps best summed up by MacKinnon.
“It is going to be tough,” she said.
Discussion of whether the state should build a natural gas pipeline occurred during the town hall.
John Wood, a local resident since before statehood, urged the legislative delegation to “pursue a balanced budget in a manner that will not destroy the quality of life in Alaska.”
He urged the delegation to work with Alaska Gov. Bill Walker to create a natural gas pipeline to boost the state’s marketing of its natural resources.
“It’s no oil pipeline,” Wood said, “But it sure will help. The economics of it will be bad for the (first) three years but once it is online, it won’t be. It will help.”
Saddler said he supported considering a natural gas pipeline, with one caveat: “We have to make sure it pencils out for the private markets.”
That’s a question that is possibly already answered as producers have pulled out a construction deal Walker supported.
Larry Wood, an Eagle River resident retired from work as legal counsel within the oil industry, told the delegation he thinks the pull-out by producers signals the same for the state.
“As far as the gasline is concerned,” Wood said. “If the producers aren’t supporting it, don’t do it.”
Melody Graham, also of Eagle River, said she is frustrated by constant talk of cuts and wants state lawmakers to focus more energy on creating new revenue. She said her family members are heading “south” because there aren’t jobs in Alaska for them.
She’d like to see the state ramp up its construction, not delay projects.
“Even a road being built that goes to east to west will help,” Graham said in reference to stimulating the economy. “We are not creating enough revenue.”
While economics took center stage in the meeting, attention was diverted to significantly more personal issues: murder.
The murders of at least three people were represented by their family members present in the audience.
The last two are not Chugiak-Eagle River residents. Grunwald resided in the Valley and Moore in Anchorage. But their families came to Saturday’s meeting with hopes of raising awareness regarding not just their tragic deaths, but the difficulties the families now experience with the legal system.
Butch Moore, Breanna’s father, told the legislative delegation that he wanted the state to pass a “duty to report” law requiring those with knowledge that a felon also has a mental illness to report that information to law enforcement.
This was the first time the local legislative delegation of five was presented with the idea, each one said. On the surface, each agreed the request had merit but would have to take a closer look at proposed language for the law and other potential implications.
Editor’s Disclosure: Edie Grunwald, the mother of David Grunwald, is a friend.