In South Anchorage and Girdwood state Senate race, candidates focus on crime fears
By James Brooks
Even before his truck was stolen, Anchorage Republican Sen. Roger Holland had been hearing from his constituents about crime.
As he seeks re-election on Nov. 8, he’s made the topic a top issue, but so have his two challengers, Democratic candidate Roselynn Cacy and Republican Cathy Giessel, the former Senate president whom Holland defeated in the Republican primary two years ago.
Different approaches on crime
Online, incumbent Gov. Mike Dunleavy has trumpeted a recent statistical report that found a steep decline in reported crimes.
Voters aren’t feeling that decline on the Anchorage Hillside, Holland said. As he talks to residents, he’s hearing about items taken from cars and yards at night.
“I can’t help but think we’re just a little too soft on crime,” Holland said.
His truck, an older-model red vehicle, featured heavily in his 2020 campaign, but when he left it at a repair shop to be fixed, someone took it right out of the lot.
“That’s the kind of thing that’s going on right now,” he said.
In her campaign, Giessel is hearing similar complaints about crime.
“As I go door to door, people are bringing up the issue of crime, stolen vehicles. Just stolen stuff, people getting into an unlocked car in their driveway and ruffling through it. So there isn’t a sense in these subdivisions that actually crime is down,” Giessel said.
She said the failure of the Alaska Legislature to restore a pension plan for police and firefighters has hurt municipal and state efforts to hire more police.
Alaska eliminated its defined-benefit pension plan for public employees in 2006, and a bill to restore that program for public safety employees died in the Senate this spring after passing the House.
“That’s an important way of addressing that crime issue,” Giessel said.
Cacy also supports the restoration of a pension program and said that more broadly, Alaska needs to restore funding for programs that offer residents reasons to stay away from crime.
“I think we need to do the things that make being a criminal a waste of time — providing education, jobs, skills, apprenticeship programs and supporting our kids in whatever they want to do that is healthy and good for them, whether it’s sports or arts or music. We need to support things that would make people not want to steal something,” she said.
Candidates close in primary
Cacy is a tax adviser with an MBA and worked for former U.S. Sen. Mike Gravel. She now serves on the Old Seward/Oceanview Community Council. Giessel has worked as an advanced nurse practitioner and served for a decade as a state senator before losing to Holland. The incumbent is a retired member of the Coast Guard Reserves who formerly worked for the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.
In the Aug. 16 primary elections, each candidate received roughly a third of the votes in their broad South Anchorage senate district that covers Girdwood and Whittier.
Giessel had a slight edge in those results, followed by Cacy and Holland, but Holland noted that the mix of voters in November may be different and will use ranked-choice voting.
Giessel and Cacy each declined to say who they will rank second. Holland noted the Alaska Republican Party’s “rank the red” campaign but said he considers Giessel “a textbook Republican in name only” and will not rank her.
Before redistricting, their district had a stronger Republican lean than it does now, but a composite of results from prior elections shows it still tilts towards Republican candidates.
Campaign finance reports show Cacy has raised just over $7,300 through Oct. 7. Holland has reported raising $38,297 during the same period, including $5,000 from Lucy Bauer of Anchorage and $2,000 from fellow Republican state Sen. Shelley Hughes of Palmer.
Giessel has raised $97,392 in the same period, including a pair of $5,000 donations from John and Laura Arnold, Texas billionaires who have donated to moderate and bipartisan causes nationwide.
Housing a priority
In Girdwood, where single-family home prices are more than 50% above Alaska’s statewide average, the three candidates said they’ve heard plenty of concern about housing.
Giessel said she doesn’t have a “brilliant idea” about how to solve the issue, but said it could involve extended subsidies through the state-owned Alaska Housing Finance Corp.
Holland said he would like to see the state make more land available for construction but believes most of the solution will probably come from the municipal level, “trying to minimize regulations or change our inspection policies to make where it’s easier to build in Anchorage.”
Cacy said she’s heard complaints about housing costs on the Hillside, not just in Girdwood. She suggested the state should seek to direct money from the 2021 federal infrastructure law toward water, sewer and road construction to support new homes in the district.
She said Anchorage’s community councils have suggestions but feels they’re not being heard.
“So I would like to connect the community councils and all of the other recommendations to look at what we can do about water, sewer, when we build houses and how to build them so you can afford to live on them but still they’re good for the environment,” she said.
Permanent Fund dividend arguments await
All three candidates expect the next legislative session will continue perennial legislative arguments over the future of the Permanent Fund dividend.
Cacy is a former treasurer for the Permanent Fund Defenders, a group that has advocated a constitutionally guaranteed dividend.
She said she supports using the traditional dividend distribution formula written in the 1980s. That formula has not been used since 2016, largely because it creates a deficit at lower oil prices.
Under the budget passed by the Legislature this spring, using the traditional formula would create a deficit of about $600 million. Asked how she would balance the budget under the traditional formula, Cacy said she would not support service cuts and suggested the state could instead turn to more in the way of “designated funds,” a budgetary term that refers to fees, grants and sources of revenue not involving taxes.
Holland said he also supports using the traditional formula but would like to see the payout deflated by transferring money out of the Permanent Fund and into the Constitutional Budget Reserve. Because the traditional formula uses the value of the Permanent Fund as a basis for setting the dividend, reducing the amount of money in the fund would reduce the cost of dividends while fulfilling the constitutional requirement to repay the budget reserve for past spending, he said.
Giessel said she supports a dividend plan called the “75-25,” which would pay dividends using one-quarter of the annual cash transfer from the Alaska Permanent Fund to the state treasury.
If that formula had been used this year, it would have resulted in a payout of about $1,300 per recipient.
Giessel said a budget with a dividend at that level would be stable regardless of the price of oil.
“I would like to see us get off of watching the oil price each day and then deciding how much we can spend. We’ve got to restore the Constitutional Budget Reserve and we’ve got to create a stable budget with planned capital expenditures,” she said.