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Politics

Race for Fairbanks House District 1

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Two long-time community activists are running a tight race for House District 1. The seat is vacant because Representative Scott Kawasaki is running for the Alaska Senate.  As KUAC’s Robyne reports, Kathryn Dodge and Bart LeBon both have long resumes of community impact and volunteerism that may make it hard for some voters to choose between them.

Kathryn Dodge just finished six years on the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly, recently as presiding officer, and a delegate to the Alaska Municipal League. Before that she worked eight years in the mayor’s office as an economic development specialist, and policy research director at the Cold Climate Housing Research Center, and about 15 years in various blue-collar positions on the Alyeska Pipeline.

Bart LeBon also served six years in public office – on the local school board. He worked nearly 17 years with Mt. McKinley Bank, and retired last year as Executive Vice President.

With backgrounds in economics and finance, Alaska’s economy is a top issue for both of them.

LeBon says the state has to use its resources to eventually get away from an oil-only economy.

LeBon: “The state has to create wealth. House District 1; what can Fairbanks do to improve its lot? The opportunity to bring clean-burning natural gas into the community in the next couple of years, Eielson Air Force Base’s mission expanding, the F-35s are coming up here, the university is an economic engine, Fort Knox is a big economic engine. So, creating wealth is a big part of finding a sustainable budget that can not only serve today, but for generations to come.”

Dodge: “Start with what are the basic services – what is it that we must have, then you can price that out? What does that cost?”

“I understand the pros and cons of many different revenue streams. And I’m on the Municipal League board, so I’ve been educated as to how a sales tax impacts rural Alaska, or how an income tax impacts people, or how the VAT impacts people, or how an oil and gas tax impacts people. They all have pros and cons, and none of them are waded into lightly, but we may need to have that conversation.”

The winner of this race will represent the district that pretty much covers the city limits of Fairbanks, where most of the area’s jobs are, health needs are, and crime is.

The two candidates disagree on the how the state might help Alaskans who have mental health and substance abuse problems.

LeBon: “I would look for accountability and efficiency. We are already investing a significant amount of money. Maybe it needs to be better managed.”

Dodge: “Does that include the Alaska Mental Health Trust? Does that include Medicare? There aren’t enough psychiatrists in this town, there are no rooms for adolescents to be admitted to mental health treatment. People, if they can pay, are still 30-60 days out. A mental health crisis is not a 30 to 60 days, ‘I’ll see you soon,’ that’s how you get suicide. That’s how you get people in pain who are numbing it with whatever is available.”

Dodge has a PhD in human and organizational systems. She has done a lot of policy research on community issues, management and economic development. She worked with community organizations and the military to prevent the closure of Eielson Air Force base when the Base Realignment and Closure commission selected it.

She says her experience with communities in transition gives her an edge. Both candidates say state funding is not the first resort as Alaska deals with more families who must move when their villages are damaged by climate change.

Dodge: “I know one role that I see with the state,  ….to have a community-led solution.”

Le Bon says there’s one question:

LeBon: “Who is the responsible party? If I were a legislator, and I was told that we needed to fund the relocation of a home or village, because of this problems, I would want to define the problem, and I would want to know who is the responsible party.”

LeBon was known in the community as a college basketball stand-out before he became a banker and then volunteered with various community organizations. He was named to the Nanook Hall of Fame, and UAF has honored him by naming a community service award after him.

This race is the first state office campaign for either candidate.