FAIRBANKS — Larry Murakami, 59, and Steve Thompson, 70, are vying for votes in Fairbanks’ House District 3, encompassing Fort Wainwright and the neighborhoods immediately bordering its east and west edges.
Each of the candidates served in the military during the Vietnam era. Murakami, a Democrat, served in the United States Navy from 1972-78, while Thompson, a Republican, served in the U.S. Army from 1965-67.
The two have each lived in Alaska for about 50 years — Murakami for 52 and Thompson for 49. Thompson has been a political fixture in Fairbanks for the past decade. He served as Fairbanks city mayor from 2001-07, and after a short break from politics, entered the state Legislature in 2010.
Thompson, now running for his third term, is no stranger to the Alaska political scene. Murakami, the political newcomer, is fighting an uphill battle to unseat the two-term republican.
Though the two sit on opposite sides of the partisan aisle, their views on certain issues facing the Interior are not entirely opposed.
What will be your No. 1 priority if (re)elected?
When choosing an issue they feel is most important to Interior Alaska, Thompson and Murakami agree — it’s all about energy. Not only are both candidates running to bring affordable energy to the Interior, they both agree on the best and most attainable method — natural gas.
Murakami said it’s a “farce” that the Interior still doesn’t have natural gas after decades of promises. For that lapse, he places much of the blame on the shoulders of state legislators, including Thompson.
“That’s going to be my job is make sure if I’m in a room and half the people are from Anchorage that I can still make them understand that this is something that has to be solved,” Murakami said. “I’m not sure Steve Thompson is focusing on the Interior’s needs, or this, at all.”
Thompson said there’s more to the natural gas debate than simply getting it to the Interior. It’s not all about speed, he said; it also has to be affordable.
“Going back to Juneau I want to follow and make sure we do get natural gas to Fairbanks by trucking or by pipe eventually, but both scenarios it’s got to come in here at a good price,” Thompson said. “Otherwise people will not convert. It won’t be good to have natural gas if it costs the same as diesel.”
With the state facing lower income, do you think the legislature has done enough to reduce spending and how will you ensure a the state spends within its means in future years?
Thompson said the state legislature is doing a number of things to prevent overspending, but the picture is a complicated one. Murakami criticized Thompson for voting to pass what he called a bloated budget, but Thompson said that criticism unfairly includes money allocated to pay down state insurance in PRS and TRS.
He pointed to $2 billion the legislature cut from the budget three years ago. He also said he thinks the legislature will be able to reduce the budget again in the coming year, but anticipated the state would still have draw from its savings.
When asked what he would cut from the budget today if he had to, Thompson was hesitant to provide any specific line items.
“Where do you reduce it? Health and Social services take up half of our budget at the present time, but how do you cut either one of those without injuring the whole picture of the product of how we’re doing,” Thompson said. “It’s going to be a real tough time this year down in Juneau.”
Thompson said there were not any areas in particular he could single out for scrutiny. Instead, he said, the legislature will have to examine every department for areas in which the state is duplicating services.
Murakami said he wouldn’t cut anything from education. In fact, he would seek to increase education spending. There are programs he would oppose. Specifically, Murakami singled out the Knik Arm bridge as an unnecessary expense in a tight budget time.
He said, considering the shrinking state income, the legislature should seriously consider ceasing its funding of the Kodiak Launch facility as well.
Given the legislature’s recent focus on education, what do you think the state should do in the near future in this area?
While affordable energy is the top priority in Murakami’s campaign, he said education is right near the top of the list as well. He said the additional funding allocated to schools in the Fiscal Year 215 budget was not adequate.
To sustain education in Alaska, Murakami advocates tying education funding to the rate of inflation, so that as costs increase so does funding.
Thompson, in contrast, feels that tying the base student allocation used for education funding to the rate of inflation would be inappropriate because it forces the legislature’s hand and takes away its flexibility.
Voters in House District 2 will make their decision in the general election on Nov 4. Voter information, including stances from both Thompson and Murakami can be found online at newsminer.com/news/politics.
Contact staff writer Weston Morrow at 459-7520. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMschools.