Challengers counting on hometown support to defeat incumbent Wilson

The only contested primary election in the Southeast Panhandle this year is the race for the District 33 House seat between incumbent Peggy Wilson, of Wrangell, and challengers Patti Mackey, of Ketchikan and Agnes Morgan, who lives in the unincorporated community of Wards Cove in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough.

The new District 33 includes Ketchikan, nearby Saxman, Wrangell and northern Prince of Wales Island. Both challengers are expecting voter preference for a hometown lawmaker to advance them to the general election. The victor in the primary faces current Ketchikan Rep. Kyle Johansen, a Republican who withdrew from the primary contest, and Democrat Matt Olsen, also from Ketchikan.

“The primary issue for me is that I would like representation to be in Ketchikan given that Ketchikan is the largest block of voters in our district,” Mackey said.

Moran said, “Ketchikan’s a very different beast than Wrangell/Petersburg and we have a lot of, you know, different issues. Truthfully, Peggy’s at the end of her political career.”

Wilson, the majority whip in the current House organization, has given no public indication that she’s ready to retire and said six terms in office have given her the experience and knowledge to advance the district’s agenda.

“Seniority does make a difference. I know the department heads. I know which representatives you can trust and which ones you can’t on both sides of the aisle. That’s extremely important when you want to hit the ground running,” she said.

All three candidates say the state’s oil tax system needs repair, but none has settled on a particular plan. Mackey said she would have been “happy” to see Gov. Sean Parnell’s tax cut become law, but declared herself “frustrated” with the “stalemate” in the legislature.

She and Moran each said the matter, though critical, is drawing too much attention away from other issues.

Moran said Alaska is not “globally competitive at the higher ranges of the tax structure,” but also called for “some level of commitment” from the oil industry, through contracts or penalties, if a tax cut didn’t result in more oil production.

Wilson said she is expecting a new oil tax proposal from the governor in the next session but emphasized, “I think we have to be very careful in what we do. I don’t think we should just go in and totally overhaul everything.”

Both challengers said a stronger economy, as measured by the availability of well-paid jobs, is their top priority. Wilson said her bill/constitutional amendment package to establish a dedicated fund to build transportation infrastructure, will remain her top priority. Wilson first introduced the proposals in 2010 and will re-file both in the 2013 session if re-elected.

Mackey said her long experience in the public sphere, as a radio station manager, a communications and marketing consultant and past president and board member of the Alaska Travel Industry Association has familiarized her with the legislative process.

Moran said she has used her term on the borough assembly “just learning how things work in a positive legislative environment,” including service on its joint city/borough relations and joint tax committees. Her engineering career included work in satellite communications and computer networking.

“I would be a techie in the legislature, she said.”

Moran said Wilson is “not as effective as someone with ten or 12 years in the legislature should be” and suggested that the award of $7.5 million in federal funds for vessel mooring improvements directly to the borough rather than to the state Department of Transportation was “kind of a vote of lack of confidence” in DOT that somehow reflects poorly on Wilson.

Wilson said her upbringing on an Iowa farm and nursing career helped prepare her for the legislature. “You learn right early on you work ‘til it’s done. You don’t stop when you fee like it,” she said of the farm. Nursing “has taught me to read between the lines, ask a lot of questions and see the pros and cons of everything and try to make it better.”

08/03/2012 - 10:01am