Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 3:39 PM on Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Mayoral candidates need big perspective on borough issues


The filing period for borough and city offices doesn't open until Aug. 1, but already the borough mayor's race is getting interesting.

Former Borough Mayor Mike Navarre announced his candidacy earlier this week; meanwhile, former assembly member Ron Long of Seward announced he is dropping out of the race to lend his support to Navarre.

That leaves five candidates still currently in the race — Dale Bagley of Soldotna, also a former borough mayor; Debbie Holle Brown of Kasilof, a former member of both the assembly and school board; Fred Sturman of Kenai, who has been active in the group Alliance of Concerned Taxpayers; Gary Superman of Nikiski, also a former borough assembly member; and Navarre, who is from Kenai.

It's a diverse field that shares one common characteristic: None of them are from the southern Kenai Peninsula. Or the eastern peninsula. They're all central peninsula residents.

While the majority of the candidates bring a wealth of local government experience to the table, for better or for worse, they share a central peninsula perspective. It's one of the reasons it's regrettable that Mr. Long chose to withdraw his candidacy — he brought a different geographic viewpoint to the table.

From our vantage point here on the lower peninsula, that different take might be what the entire borough needs right now.

Of course, it's not all about geography. While the borough may be the size of West Virginia in land mass, its entire population doesn't equal that of a small city. No matter where we live in the borough, we're all neighbors with more in common than not.

Still, there are differences, which those running local government would do well to keep in mind. Our economies are different. Our histories are different. Our incomes are different. We don't share the same cost of living. We hope mayoral candidates will address those differences and challenges, including:

• Energy: Will candidates support the southern peninsula getting natural gas? And can they do so in a way that it won't become a divisive issue with our neighbors in the central peninsula?

• Education: Kenai and Soldotna schools are more urban than rural while southern peninsula schools tend to be smaller and more remote. Some of our schools are way off the beaten path, and we have four where Russian is the students' first language. Is there equity in how schools are funded in different parts of the borough?

• Health care: Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna and South Peninsula Hospital in Homer are integral parts of their respective communities and the borough as a whole. Do the candidates think something different needs to be done with the operation of our hospitals? If so, what? Can something be done so both hospitals are financially healthy and don't compete with one another?

• Fishing: While there is a borough-wide relationship with fish, not all areas share the same connection. What will candidates do to ensure that commercial, sport and subsistence fisheries remain healthy in all parts of the borough — and that we don't sacrifice one for the other?

During their campaigns, as borough mayoral candidates seek to become better known among lower peninsula residents, we hope they'll also make it a point to get to know the lower peninsula and its unique issues.

We also hope this will be an issue-driven race and that all candidates will remember the mayor's job is a nonpartisan one. This is not about who is a Republican or a Democrat, a conservative or a liberal. It is about who can run the borough most efficiently and work with people of all persuasions to get things done. It's about who can unite most and divide least. It's about who can balance economic development and quality of life.

So let the race begin and may voters on the southern peninsula take seriously their responsibility to get to know all the candidates before they head to the polls Oct. 4.

By the way, filing for city and borough offices opens Aug. 1 and runs through Aug. 15. Check out which seats are up for election on page 7. You may want to throw your hat in the ring.