FAIRBANKS — A lawyer and two-term assemblyman is challenging a U.S. Army veteran who is the incumbent representing a district largely made up of Fort Wainwright.
Van Lawrence is a 66-year-old Democrat and deputy presiding officer of the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly. Steve Thompson is a 74-year-old Republican. The retired auto parts merchant and former mayor of Fairbanks has won a seat in the Alaska House of Representatives four times.
They are competing in the Nov. 6 election for House District 2, which also includes neighborhoods on Fort Wainwright’s border — Hamilton Acres, Island Homes, Shannon Park and a slice of Badger Road, including Lakloey Hill.
The race is pretty low key.
“I am not running against Mr. Thompson but am running for my district and for the Interior,” Lawrence said on his campaign page on Facebook.
Thompson has raised about $30,000 for his re-election bid. Lawrence has raised a little over $22,000 to challenge him, according to campaign finance reports.
Thompson has some signs but no door hangers and no campaign website, he said when reached by phone. He invites people who don’t know where he stands on the issues to call him.
Lawrence has a campaign website, vanlawrence.net, and a catchline, “Vote Van.” On social media, he posts photos from the campaign trail, including the menu at a recent fundraiser: salmon crepes, wild Alaska blueberry rum cake and Alaska grown “heirloom baby potatoes with melted blue cheese.”
The Van Lawrence for State House page has 282 Facebook followers.
Lawrence’s priorities, if elected, are protecting the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend, forward funding education and creating high-paying jobs, he says on campaign brochures, his website, his Facebook page and a position statement on the Alaska Division of Elections website.
Thompson also maintains a presence on social media. His Facebook page, Representative Steve Thompson, has 338 followers. He’s posted about 15 times this year, advertising a neighborhood watch meeting or an opportunity to testify on a bill; or sharing photographs of his “junior policy advisor,” 7-year-old Max, Thompson’s youngest son.
Sometimes Thompson gets political. “The House majority is only interested in growing the budget, and in this time of fiscal uncertainty and economic recession, this is the wrong move,” he said in a post on March 7.
Affordable energy is Thompson’s No. 1 priority, he said in the telephone interview.
On the issues, the candidates have some similarities and some differences. Lawrence said in answer to a prepared question in August that he would not cut any state programs. Thompson said he would reduce Medicaid, the state’s largest individual expenditure.
Both said “no” when asked if they would enshrine the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend formula in the Alaska Constitution.
How would they diversify the economy and increase tax revenues?
Lawrence suggested a state-sponsored startup business loan fund. Thompson called for more resource development.
Lawrence was born and raised in Texas — one of four boys. He still speaks with a faint twang despite calling Fairbanks home for the past 40 years.
He is married to a U.S. Air Force veteran and decided to get involved in politics after his 21-year-old daughter died of lupus.
Lawrence serves on the Pioneer Home Foundation board of directors and helped organize the Retired Seniors Volunteer Program, according to a biographical statement.
He has a long association with Kiwanis and is poised to be president of the Fairbanks club in 2019. He was named Kiwanian of the Year in 2007.
As an assemblyman, Lawrence has supported regulations to reduce air pollution, including unsuccessful legislation aimed at removing outdoor hydronic heaters from parts of Fairbanks and North Pole.
He said that it’s time to put a higher value on human health than “cheap heat.”
In 2016, he supported an assembly resolution pressing the state to enact a broad-based tax and tap the permanent fund dividend to make up for a budget shortfall.
He voted no on a proposal that would have allowed borough employees to bring a firearm to work and supported legislation aimed at ending the nonsectarian invocation at assembly meetings. Both proposals failed.
He was among a group of assembly members who put pressure on the school district to spend out of its growing reserves rather than cut services last spring.
He voted against a proposal to close the Mary Siah Recreation Center.
He once said it was absurd that adults are not allowed to consume marijuana outside of their home.
Lawrence’s campaign is getting financial support from teachers, lawyers, past and present borough leaders, unions and prominent Democrats. His largest contribution, $2,500, is from the House Democratic Campaign Committee.
Thompson is from Oregon and has lived in Fairbanks since 1965 when the Army stationed him here.
He was a sergeant when he left the Army two years later and operated a local business, M & O Auto Parts.
He has served on the Alaska State Workers Compensation Board and the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District Budget Review Committee, according to biographical information on the Alaska Division of Elections website.
In 2001, Thompson was elected mayor of Fairbanks. He followed by serving on the City Council but stepped down while his wife was ill. He was widowed and has since remarried.
In 2010, Thompson was elected to the House and has ascended to leadership. He’s been a chairman of the coveted House Finance Committee and two years ago had aspirations to serve as speaker of the House.
When Thompson took office as mayor of Fairbanks, the city was $1 million in debt, according to a 2007 News-Miner article.
When Thompson left the office of mayor, the city had a positive balance of $5.4 million, the article stated.
Thompson has sponsored and co-sponsored hundreds of bills as a legislator.
At the end of his first term, he had succeeded in creating incentives for oil and natural gas exploration and production in the Interior.
A second bill by Thompson to become law provided tax credits for natural gas storage facilities.
A third bill created pro-business zones around military bases.
In 2014, Thompson sponsored legislation, which became law, to track “lost” state revenue or tax credits, exemptions, deductions, discounts and exclusions.
He wrote in a Community Perspective published in the News-Miner that “it’s time to take a hard look at what we are not collecting and the impacts on available funds for the budget.”
In 2016, Thompson criticized Gov. Bill Walker for suspending three state-funded road projects in Fairbanks during a budget crisis. Thompson said the work stoppage would hamper the economy and cut jobs.
A bill by Thompson that became law in August updates state standards for accountants. Another new law sponsored by Thompson adds a symbol to Alaska driver’s licenses if someone has an imperceptible disability.
Thompson also co-sponsored legislation dealing with industrial hemp and naming Oct. 25 as “African American Soldiers’ Contribution to Building the Alaska Highway Day.”
Thompson said in his position statement that the Interior needs “to place added emphasis on the development of natural gas, hydro-electric power, wind energy and even nuclear power.”
Energy prices are inhibiting economic development, he said.
Thompson’s financial supporters include business owners, trade groups, unions, the Dentists of Alaska political action committee and the Committee for the Advancement of Rural Electric. His biggest single contribution is $2,000 from the Republican Women of Fairbanks.
Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7587. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMborough.