A Petersburg man is launching a write-in campaign for the state Senate seat for southern and central Southeast Alaska. Handyman Michael Sheldon wants to unseat incumbent Republican Bert Stedman of Sitka.

60-year-old Michael Sheldon has registered with the state Division of Elections as a write in candidate for Senate district R, which includes Ketchikan, Wrangell, Sitka, Petersburg, Prince of Wales Island communities and many other small Southeast villages.

Sheldon, a Republican, is challenging Stedman because of his vote this year on the Permanent Fund. Stedman voted in support of Senate bill 128, which would have restructured the Permanent Fund, used some of the fund’s earnings to pay for state government and set the dividend check at 1,000 dollars for the next three years. It passed the Senate in special session in June but did not pass the House. Instead Governor Bill Walker ended up vetoing an appropriation to the Permanent Fund which essentially cut this year’s PFD check in half, to just over 1000 dollars.

Sheldon said those actions prompted his campaign. “Keep the hands out of the PFD,” said Sheldon. “Governor Walker and these senators I think they’ve made a wrong move and I think it’d be good to stand up as a Senate vote and to vote no to issues that concern PFD reduction.”

Michael Sheldon

Michael Sheldon

Sheldon was born and raised in Petersburg. His father was from Wrangell and his mother was a Tlingit from Kake. He started working as a choker setter with J&H Logging in Petersburg as a high school junior. He studied at Peninsula College in Port Angeles, Washington. He also has worked on the Alyeska Pipeline and worked in commercial fishing for 22 years. For the past decade, he’s done handyman work and car detailing.

“When I go up to the senate most likely I’m going to be voting no on financial issues because I can see that we can’t afford it no more,” he explained. “Until we start figuring out resolutions and plans to build our economy back up the way it used to be, things are going to have to be tabled.”
Sheldon said he would look at spending cuts first and possibly a state income tax down the road if necessary.

He’s announced his candidacy with about a month to go before the general election in a senate district spread throughout the islands of Southeast Alaska.

“Well what I need to do each one of the communities in District R I need to find volunteers to canvas the area,” Sheldon said. “If I could get them to go door to door and spread the word through the internet and through facebook what have you that I’m running as a write in for district R against Senator Bert Stedman on November 8th. I would appreciate the volunteer help in that area. Also I would need some financial help. I do have a website I put up recently.”

Sheldon is taking on an incumbent who’s held that senate seat since 2003. Bert Stedman was first appointed to the senate and has won three elections. He’s served on the senate finance committee from 2007-2012 and last session was chair of the Health and Social Services committee. Stedman says having a challenger does not change how he approaches the election and he welcomes a discussion of the issues.

“It doesn’t hurt to have the public come forward or members of the public in the district come forward and run for the seat,” Stedman said. “That’s the process that we have in a democracy. And I’ve always encouraged local people to step forward and participate in assemblies or councils or school boards or for that matter representation in Juneau. So it’s a good thing to have a discussion of the issues. And it will help to facilitate that potentially.”

Bert Stedman

Bert Stedman

Stedman said he has supported changing the Permanent Fund to a percent-of-market-value style endowment fund as long as he’s been in the Senate. He says that produces a more reliable stream of revenue that can be put into dividend checks or fund state government. “So if you look at it as far as the structure, I certainly support restructuring the Permanent Fund,” he explained. “The debate really comes down on the amount that you’re gonna pull out and the direction it’s going to flow either to dividends or to the state treasury to run the state or some combination of the two. And clearly over my entire political career I’ve supported the dividends to the people of the state that own the oil resource.”

Stedman argued the legislature should have made changes already to address the state’s fiscal crisis and he says lawmakers have to act this coming winter.

“We have enough money coming in the door in re-occurring revenue to basically fully fund K-12 education and that’s it,” Stedman said. “And that means no troopers, no prisons, no fish and game, no DNR, no DOT, no legislature, no governor. It’s a serious matter. So we need to solve it.” Stedman said without action, dividend checks and core services around the state will be impacted. He had a challenger for his seat in 2004 and 2012 but not in 2008.