Diverse backgrounds among three on list for vacant state Senate seat

Alaska state Senate District E
Among the many items on the governor’s to-do list remains a decision on whom he should appoint to the vacant state Senate seat for District E.

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 The appointment is needed after Wasilla Republican Mike Dunleavy resigned to focus on his gubernatorial campaign.
Party officials from District E forwarded three names to the governor for consideration, after whittling down a longer list of names through several rounds of voting Monday night.
They are retiree Tom Braund, who said he worked in public safety for 30-plus years; sitting House member George Rauscher, who currently represents District 9; and Todd Smoldon, an Anchorage teacher.
Braund declined an interview request, saying he distrusts the news media.
On the phone from Juneau as the legislative session got underway this week, Rauscher said he was still unpacking and dealing with a busy schedule. He said he appreciates the selection by District E officials.
“I work hard for ’em, and I think there’s some reciprocation going on there, and I just want to be able to keep serving them in the way they expect,” Rauscher said.
Rauscher said it’s too soon to say whether further cuts to state budgets are necessary to make up the gap between what the state spends and what it takes in. That’s something Dunleavy argued for.
Rauscher said his priorities would remain the same if he ends up in the Senate. He said that includes advocating for smarter, or perhaps fewer, state regulations and other policies to boost employment in Alaska.
“We’re talking about private industry jobs, we’re talking about what we can do to keep the people in Alaska working,” Rauscher said. “I think that’s very important. I think we have to understand what makes the job market happen.”
Smoldon, the third applicant on the list, has not worked in state government, but he said working as a teacher has prepared him to serve in the state Senate. Many of the skills — like acting as a mediator and finding ways to intelligently answer questions — are the same, he said.
“You gather information from a variety of sources and you extract that and turn that into something that’s usable and workable,” Smoldon said. “So in that sense, crafting legislation, working with constituents, those are skills that I have honed as a classroom teacher.”
The constituents in District E have made it clear that they want a senator who will continue to work on fixing state crime legislation known as SB91, protect the payout of the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend and craft a sustainable budget, Smoldon said.
Smoldon said he agrees with Dunleavy that not enough has been trimmed from the budget. He thinks there are ways to find more efficiency in state government.
“We have a spending priority problem,” Smoldon said. “And so when we’re spending money on things that are not, you know, the essential functions of government, and then we can’t afford more prosecutors or more state troopers or things like that, for me, that’s bad leadership and bad policy.”
Smoldon said Rauscher is better known, but added that he hopes the governor picks the person who will best serve the district’s needs.
None of the three applicants said they had spoken with the governor, as of Thursday.
The deadline for the selection is February 14.

Casey Grove is the host of Alaska News Nightly and a general assignment reporter at Alaska Public Media with an emphasis on crime and courts. Reach him at cgrove@alaskapublic.org.

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