A Sitka Democrat and a Petersburg Republican will face off in November for a seat in the Alaska House representing central Southeast. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins of Sitka would be returning for a second term, while Steven Samuelson of Petersburg is hoping his third try at a house seat is successful.
The 25 year old Kreiss-Tomkins is most of the way through his first term in the state house. He represented a district that includes his hometown of Sitka, Haines, Metlakatla, and other small Southeast communities.
He’s running to represent a district that’s a little different, dropping Haines and Metlakatla but picking up Petersburg and the northern end of Prince of Wales Island. Kreiss-Tomkins figures about 25 percent of the population of his old district is swapped out with people from several other Southeast communities.
“It makes a rural district even more rural,” said Kreiss-Tomkins. Nevertheless, he said communities in the district have universal concerns. “It’s basic infrastructure for communities, fishing policy, ferries. There are issues that, affordable energy and hydro power, that are pretty universal to every community no matter the size.”
Kreiss-Tomkins does a little fishing and works for several non profits but says the job of representative takes up a lot of time even out of session. He attended Sitka High School and Yale University before winning his house seat by just 32 votes in 2012.
Looking back on his first term, he was happy that some proposed legislation did not pass. “The constitutional amendment to allow public money to go to private schools. The so-called vouchers amendment. I was very worried that might gain momentum and pass the legislature and it did not. I thought that was a huge relief. And I was very active in trying to prevent that from happening.”
He was also glad that an effort to change the education foundation formula in favor of urban school districts did not pass, along with house bill 77, which aimed to streamline the state’s permitting process.
He expects many of the same themes in future sessions. “Oil tax policy, what share is Alaska going to get and what share are the oil companies going to get. That may very well be back on the legislature next year and that’s a hugely important question. I think education is going to be coming back to the legislature here soon and I deeply believe in the importance of adequate funding for public education, which I don’t feel has happened in the last few years, with teachers being laid off in schools.”
Kreiss-Tomkins has a long list of ideas he’d like to pursue – one involves changes he’d like to see for vehicle insurance. “Instead of having a monthly premium, having people pay on a per vehicle mile traveled basis, so that people in coastal island communities like Petersburg and like Sitka aren’t paying insurance as though they were driving around in Los Angeles and putting on many thousands of miles on their car each year. So anyways ideas like incentivizing teaching for top talent coming out of Alaska high schools, ideas like trying to return fishing permits to a greater percentage to Alaskans as opposed to out of state residents.”
Kreiss-Tomkins has no challenger in the August 19th primary election. Nor does his opponent, 37-year-old Petersburg republican Steven Samuelson. Samuelson went to Petersburg High School, Big Bend College, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. He’s worked for the Sitka based Allen Marine and has skippered and crewed on a fishing boat out of Petersburg. He’s also run for state house twice before, losing both times to Wrangell’s Peggy Wilson in the primary. “I think the issues are mostly the same, making sure that Southeast is taken care of, making sure our district is being taken care of,” Samuelson said. “I’m incredibly passionate about what I’m doing. This is my third run at it. You know it’s not something I take lightly, running again. It’s just one of those things that I’m real passionate about. I believe I would do a very very good job. I believe I am the person for this job.”
He works in management at Hammer and Wikan, a company that owns a grocery, hardware and convenience store in Petersburg. When he’s not working he’s been traveling around the district, attending a Southeast Conference meeting and keeping an eye on the legislature during the session. He was happy to see funding for public employee pensions and increased school funding pass this year. “What I do like is we did get three billion, I believe it was three billion, put in for the unfunded liability so we were looking at education. That was important to me, I felt we do need to be taking care of that. The BSA, base student allocation, I think that was important that there was more money put into that. I wish it would have been done a little sooner and didn’t stretch out like it did. You know those were issues they were talking about, some of the issues, there was a lot happening but those were the big ones and you know I felt good about that.”
Samuelson thinks a republican should hold the house district 35 seat. “It’s important to have somebody in the majority and that is where I’d be put because you do start out with a little bit more. I will be a freshman. I’m not going to be up there banging my fist on the counter saying that we need and we’re gonna get this, that and the other because it’s not realistic.”
If he is elected, Samuelson said he’d like to see more energy infrastructure built in the region. “I’m incredibly passionate about what happens with energy projects. I want to see that move forward as far as hydro power and geothermal, if that works, if we can make it work within the scheme of hydro projects and really research more tidal. Those are things I think that we can do in Southeast that would one, create jobs. We could do education programs along with this and something that will never be taken away.”
Both candidates say they’ll be visiting the communities around the district in the upcoming months and knocking on doors around Southeast. The primary election is August 19th and the general election is November 4th.