Where the candidates stand: Andrew Halcro

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Independent gubernatorial candidate Andrew Halcro describes what he feels is a closed-door leadership style in the Legislature that has resulted in public distrust during an interview at the Alaska Journal of Commerce’s offices.
PHOTO/Rob Stapleton/AJOC
   
Editor’s note: After a series of in-house interviews, the Journal of Commerce is examining the stance of the three candidates for governor on the major issues facing the state. Democratic candidate and former Gov. Tony Knowles was featured last week, and we will feature Republican Sarah Palin next week.

Andrew Halcro admits he has an uphill fight in his bid for governor, and the slope got steeper when Tony Knowles, a two-term former governor, got into the race on the Democratic side.

Halcro isn’t fazed, however. He intends to keep at it, he says, raising issues and giving people who feel disinclined to vote for Candidate "A" or "B" another option, himself.

Halcro is almost legendary for his straight talk and letting people know where he stands, even if it’s something people don’t want to hear. He was well-known in the Legislature for showing independence in the Republican majority in a period when the majority leadership wanted to run a tight ship with little tolerance for dissent within the caucus.

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Republican legislative leaders found that difficult, with moderates like Halcro and a handful of other former state representatives, including Lisa Murkowski and Bill Hudson, among others. "They treated us like mushrooms," Halcro recalled. "We were to be kept in the dark and given a little nourishment just every now and then," by the tight-knit House Republican leadership group.

The narrowing of decisions in the Legislature, with leaders trying to keep a tight rein and sometimes flat-out lying to members about why legislation wasn’t advancing, created an environment that was ripe for lobbyists and ethics abuses, Halcro said.

On ethics, Halcro gives credit where it’s due, for example, to Sarah Palin for blowing the whistle on the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission when fellow-commissioner Randy Ruedrich, who is also Republican party chairman, was doing party business at the office. Palin shouldn’t be known as the only ethics advocate, however. Halcro said many people, including himself, have pushed ethics legislation in Juneau for years. He was one of two Republicans who joined Democrats to sustain a veto by then-Gov. Tony Knowles of a bill weakening ethics laws.

It is the club-like nature of the Legislature, however, and the narrowing of who and how decisions are made that a governor must be able to understand and manage, Halcro said. The closed-door leadership style of the leadership in recent years has led to cronyism that results in embarrassments like a new $350 million private prison being built in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough (Senate Finance co-chair Lyda Green’s district) while Anchorage can’t get $47 million to rebuild Clark Middle School, Halcro said.

Halcro and his opponents

Among the three candidates, Halcro says he is the only contender with experience in running a small business statewide - the Avis car rental franchise for Alaska - as well as legislative experience during some tough times - Halcro served when oil prices plunged to $9 per barrel. Most importantly, Halcro said he has the capability to understand and manage the Legislature. Knowles’ inability to work with the Legislature, even given the fact that Republicans controlled the House and Senate, was one of his key failures as governor, Halcro said.

Halcro contrasted himself with his opponents by first commenting on the outgoing Gov. Frank Murkowski. "My big issue with Murkowski is that he got elected knowing full well he couldn’t deliver on his campaign promises. This state has a structural budget deficit, and Frank knew that. He got elected with 57 percent of the vote but seven months later cut the longevity bonus and municipal revenue-sharing. The difference between Frank and I is that I would be honest with people."

He criticizes Knowles for lacking leadership at critical times when it was needed. In 1999, the state House passed a bill by a wide margin establishing a long-range fiscal plan. It had broad bi-partisan support and passed 34-6. It included, however, some use of Alaska Permanent Fund income, a kind of modified percent-of-market-value (POMV) plan for the fund. POMV is a method of paying out fund earnings that would link payments for dividends and any other use to market performance of the fund.

Knowles didn’t support it, saying he wanted the public to vote on anything that might affect dividends. Halcro criticizes this, arguing Knowles basically played politics with a strategic decision of tremendous importance - the use of some fund earnings to support public services. "We all know what happens when you put complex votes to the people," Halcro said. "It puts the questions into an environment that lends itself only to bumper-sticker debate."

Sure enough, when the full-blown POMV plan went to voters a couple of years later, the plan bombed and legislators have been wary in touching it since. The 1999 fiscal plan was the brainchild of the House "Fiscal Caucus" of independent-thinking Republicans, of which Halcro was one of the leaders, along with then-state Rep. Lisa Murkowski. Had Knowles shown leadership at the time, instead of playing politics, the state would have had a solid framework today for managing its finances and structural deficit when oil prices turn down, as eventually will happen, Halcro said.

As for Sarah Palin, Halcro acknowledges she is a tough opponent because she is so new on the scene. For an electorate tired of ethics issues, FBI raids and wrangles over the gas line, and who are looking for change, she’s a fresh face. "Sarah is unique, because no one really knows what she stands for, and that makes it difficult to run against her," Halcro acknowledged.

Her lack of experience in government, particularly in the business of managing government, as well as the complex issues facing the state, is her big weakness. "Government is about management, and when you are governor, you have to be able to deal with everything from rural energy problems to multibillion-dollar oil and gas issues to education," Halcro said. "We have to have a governor who can walk and chew gum at the same time."

Halcro’s agenda

As for his own plans, Halcro said a key theme is community health, including the health of the economy. "Many of our communities are struggling with social issues like alcoholism and abuse and high energy costs, and the cut of state revenue-sharing by the previous administration has crippled the ability of smaller local governments to deal with these problems," he said. "In the larger communities, they have just shifted more costs to local property taxpayers."

Halcro said he would increase the state’s marketing efforts, particularly in tourism and fisheries. He gives some credit to Gov. Murkowski for the $50 million salmon revitalization program, which allowed many smaller salmon harvesters to buy equipment to improve the quality of their catch as well as do their own direct marketing. "We need a lot more of this kind of thing," he said.

Halcro said the state can help small businesses in three ways: First, helping assure there is a labor force with adequate skills. The way to accomplish this is through education, and the state must reinvigorate vocational training, he said. "Alaska construction wages are 30 percent above the industry’s national average. There’s nothing wrong with having a skilled trade," he said.

Second, the state can assist Alaska businesses in gaining access to markets, particularly markets that are out of state. Alaska will always have a geographic disadvantage in many industries, although telecommunications and the Internet can ease some of this.

Third, the state can help establish a stable financial environment in which businesses will operate. Alaska has no significant taxes on most small businesses, so establishing healthy communities with enough local resources to deal with social issues and economic problems is important.

On education, Halcro would raise the compulsory age for school attendance to age 18. "We have a 40 percent high school dropout rate and we need to send a message that this is unacceptable," he said.

Cruise taxes, "Bridges to Nowhere"

Halcro has strong views about some current controversial issues: The $50-per-head cruise passenger tax will be a good thing for Alaska and will not harm the cruise industry, he said. "There will be zero fallout," from the August primary vote in favor of the cruise passenger tax, Halcro predicted. He said the cruise industry ran a "scare campaign" against the ballot proposition. There are tourism firms that now pay special taxes, including his own car rental business, Halcro said, and the cruise industry can afford to pay taxes too, particularly in view of the community impacts the industry’s passengers create. Halcro recognizes, however, that there are constraints on how revenues from the cruise tax can be used, but he thinks the income could do a lot to enhance ports and harbors in coastal communities, which also benefits the cruise industry.

Halcro doesn’t support the road north out of Juneau, and has some questions about the Gravina Island bridge in Ketchikan. He predicts that the rising cost of the new road from Juneau will make it unaffordable and that the road will essentially support the new Kensington gold mine now under construction near Berners’ Bay north of Juneau. If that’s the case, the mine should pay for the section of road that supports it, just like the Red Dog Mine in Northwest Alaska pays for the road built for it by the state in 1989.

As for Ketchikan, "I have done business in that community for years without a bridge. Someday there might be a need for a bridge, but not now," he said. He said his feelings are similar for the Knik Arm bridge in Anchorage. He is concerned about the project’s need to handle 7,000 cars a day to break even.

He said he supports both projects in theory, but not until the communities can afford more of a contribution to help with rising cost of construction and also be able to afford the long-term operation and maintenance, and the costs associated with increased access.

As for a long-range fiscal plan, Halcro acknowledges that with the current revenue surplus a broad-based citizen tax is unrealistic, but he still supports a POMV plan that would help make some Permanent Fund earnings available to help support the state budget. His worry is that oil prices will eventually turn down, and oil production is also falling. When he left the Legislature it took prices of $36 per barrel to balance the state budget. Now it takes more than $50 per barrel, he said.

Halcro feels a governor should show strong leadership in dealing with the Legislature, and he faults Knowles for not doing enough of this. For example, he would signal early on that he would veto bills as a way to get legislators to fashion bills in a more acceptable way. "You have to get out in front of the process. You have to stand up and bring in the public to influence the Legislature," he said.

Tim Bradner can be reached at [email protected].

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Andrew Halcro: A biography

Andrew Halcro was born in San Francisco on Sept. 20, 1964. He has lived in Alaska since 1965.

He and his wife, Vicki, have two children - Lauren, 22, and 16-year-old Alyssa.

Halcro attended East High School in Anchorage, graduating in 1982. He later attended Willamette University and the University of Alaska Anchorage, and continued his education at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and the Harvard Business School.

Halcro served in the state House of Representatives from 1999 to 2003, sitting on committees of Transportation, Community and Regional Affairs, and Labor and Commerce, as well as the Administration Department Budget subcommittee. He also served on the Fiscal Policy Caucus.

Outside of politics, Halcro’s professional career has been with Avis Alaska car rental, a statewide family-owned business. While in high school, Halcro worked as a car wash manager at Avis, moving up to an airport rental agent after graduation.

He worked his way up from administrative assistant, fleet manager and director of marketing before becoming president of Avis Alaska, beginning in 2002.

In the community, Halcro has served on the Sand Lake Community Council, the Anchorage School District’s citizen budget task force, the Municipal Budget Advisory Commission and with the Mayor’s Transition Team.

Updated: 
09/30/2006 - 8:00pm

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