Incumbent Rep. Louise Stutes (R-Kodiak), who is running unopposed for Kodiak’s house seat in the Legislature, said the elections are not about party affiliations or personal opinions — they are about what is right for the people.
That is what she told Cordova’s Peter Hoepfner, who was running in the Alaska Democratic and Independence parties primary for Alaska House of Representatives District 32 — which includes Kodiak, Cordova and Yakutat — before he withdrew his nomination.
Sitting in her Kodiak office, surrounded by books on Alaska statutes and piles of documents, Stutes said Hoepfner told her that although he is a Democrat, he aligns with her on many of the state’s issues.
Stutes is part of a Republican-led majority caucus, with members who are Republicans, Democrats and Independents. She said in her past four years in the Legislature, and being a part of the caucus, she has learned to compromise.
Stutes has lived in Kodiak since the 1980s, when she took over ownership of the Village Bar from her father. Always having been interested in politics, she sold the bar and won a seat on the Kodiak Island Borough Assembly for several years before running for the state Legislature in 2014.
She said she feels good about running unopposed for the first time since she entered the Legislature.
“It's allowed me to help others who are either part of our coalition or want to be a coalition to help them move forward in a campaign instead of focusing on my own,” she said.
Stutes has been one of the most vocal supporters of the Alaska Marine Highway System, the value of which is “easy to underestimate” for mainland Alaska.
She has opposed some of Governor Mike Dunleavy’s drastic cuts to the AMHS budget and reiterated the need for the ferries in coastal Alaska and even on the mainland.
The state Legislature has tried multiple times to add funding to the ferry system, but the administration has vetoed those additions.
“That makes a big difference,” Stutes said. “If we do the work and they don't support it, (the funding is) gone.”
However, she noted that people will have to come to terms with upcoming changes to the level of service AMHS will be able to offer.
“The service is going to change. It is service that is enough to sustain these communities. Not a luxury, but a necessity,” she said.
Stutes also said that other districts have underestimated the value of commercial fishing, not realizing that many of their constituents travel to her district’s communities to participate in the fisheries.
“If we don't keep our commercial fisheries healthy, the whole state suffers,” she said, which is why she said adequate funding for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is so important.
Stutes also noted that under Dunelavy’s administration, commercial fisheries seems to have become less of a priority compared to subsistence, personal-use and sport fisheries, as well as charters.
Stutes said she agrees that the state’s budget needs to be reduced but said that “to slash and burn it” is counterproductive.
During her four years in the state Legislature, she said politics has become “vicious” and “not a friendly place to work,” with legislators taking differing opinions as a sleight.
However, Stutes said she has learned the value of compromise and continues to work with others to accomplish her responsibilities for her constituents.
“It’s not about what I want, it’s what my district wants, or helping somebody else with what their district wants,” she said.
One of her proudest accomplishments for Kodiak residents was helping secure the funding from the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill fund to transfer Termination Point land from Alaska Native Corporation Leisnoi Inc. to the Kodiak Island Borough, “because the whole community benefits from that,” she said.
She also said she has made efforts to make herself available to the community, to listen to her constituents’ concerns.
“I have helped open up communications from this community to their Legislature, and that, to me, is really important,” she said, adding that every voice counts.
“I want people to feel like they can call me,” Stutes said. “I live here, I like this place and I'm going to defend it and I need their help to help me do it.”