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Petersburg man to challenge for Southeast house seat

Voters in central Southeast will have a choice for state house in 2014. A Petersburg Republican plans to run for house district 35 in hopes of unseating a freshman Democratic representative from Sitka. Legislative districts for next year have not yet cleared a legal challenge but at least two people intend to run for the new district that includes Sitka, Petersburg Craig and other communities on the northern half of Prince of Wales Island.

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36-year-old Steven Samuelson works at the grocery store Hammer and Wikan. He’s also part of management of the Petersburg company that also has hardware and convenience stores. Samuelson twice ran in the state primary against Wrangell Republican Peggy Wilson for her house seat. He narrowly lost to Wilson in his second attempt in 2010.

“I ran two I believe very successful campaigns,” Samuelson said this month. “Though I didn’t get the seat, I believe this time I will. I think that we need quite a bit of support for senator (Bert) Stedman, from the representative side. I believe the state is becoming more republican all the time but I also think we need somebody in the house that isn’t voting party lines that is seeking and really learning and understanding the district throughout what all the needs are here in our communities.”

Samuelson said his top issues going into the 2014 election are some of the same ones from his last campaign. He says he’s passionate about hydro electric power for Southeast communities and service on the state ferry system, and he touts his experience for the new district.

“Especially as a commercial fishermen for all of my life,” he said, adding, “Working for Sitka based Allen Marine, being in the tourism industry. I have a background in aviation so I understand that part of it. A lot of different things that these communities survive on and can grow with are what I’m here to support.”

If the redistricting board’s latest plan survives a legal challenge, the new House district 35 will include 24 communities in central Southeast, including Angoon, Hoonah, Craig, Klawock and Kupreanof, Kake, Pelican, Coffman Cove, Port Protection and Point Baker and other communities on northern Prince of Wales Island.

Samuelson said he’s been encouraged to run by Republicans in Southeast and is not daunted by the task of campaigning through so many towns. Like past campaigns he plans to go door to door, traveling around the new district and working the phones. He’s also non-committal on his stance for the change in oil taxes pushed by the governor and passed by the legislature this year.

“I haven’t heard anything on what are we gonna do next,” Samuelson said. “It’s, I don’t like it, it’s not a good plan but nobody’s really come across and said, OK this isn’t a good plan but this is another great plan on how to get more production out of the state and how to get more oil into that pipeline. And to just say no, we don’t like it, we want more money. How do we get the growth? How do we get more production? Is it tax break? Is it…the governor agrees that it is. You know until I’m sitting in that seat and able to provide as much information as possible to the people and get as much information as I can, we’ll just have to see where that goes.”

That’s a big contrast with Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, who Samuelson will be running against next fall, assuming both survive the August primary.

“The oil tax cut is huge and making sure that Alaska gets a fair share of Alaska’s oil wealth and isn’t giving it away to BP and Exxonn and Conoco which are already making literally billions in pure profit,” Kreiss-Tomkins said, adding, “Nothing wrong with that but I don’t think they need any more money that could otherwise go into infrastructure and harbors and schools. So that’s a huge issue. It’s the reason I ran in the first place and it’s still obviously in the forefront with this referendum coming up in this upcoming legislative session.”

Kreiss-Tomkins distributed signature booklets for the referendum to repeal the tax change and said he’ll be campaigning for the repeal on the primary ballot next August. He turned 24 in February. The Sitka Democrat, won his seat in the house in 2012 by beating incumbent Bill Thomas by 34 votes. He’s halfway through a two-year term representing a district including Sitka, Haines and many of the communities that could be in the new house district. Kreiss-Tomkins said he’s passionate about the job and hopes to get re-elected.

“It’s a great platform to affect positive change. I’ve been working on rural issues, commercial fishing issues, education and doing my very, very best to stop this oil tax cut. And whether that was in the legislature, also this referendum effort. And it’s a great platform to work on issues that affect people’s lives. And I can’t think of a more gratifying line of work.”

Kreiss Tomkins does some contract work and lists public policy analyst and writer as his occupation but says he spends much of his time representing his district, even with the legislature out of session. He said he’s excited about the election race. “I’m looking forward to meeting Steven and hearing the ideas he’s got and I’m passionate about the job and the ideas you can advance through the position. So it’ll be a lot of fun to go through the process and talk with voters and it’s good for the district and good for the public process that there’ll be a robust campaign so I’m excited about it.”

Kreiss-Tomkins heads back to Juneau for the second session of the 28th legislature this winter and says he’ll focus on campaigning after that.

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