Labor activist. Peony grower. Alaska lawmaker.
David Guttenberg has achieved more career ambitions than most people. More important to his supporters, Guttenberg does not believe his work is done. The long-time Fairbanks resident is running for Seat A on the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly.
Guttenberg said the decision to run was pretty much made for him by an encouraging group of friends, neighbors, associates and, of course, relatives.
“My family is very close. There are four generations of Guttenbergs here,” the candidate said in an interview with the News-Miner. “We do lots of things together and still do.”
Originally from New York City, Guttenberg moved to Alaska when he was 18 to fight fires and found an “amazing place” to live, he said.
“Everybody followed,” Guttenberg said, referring to family members who now include his nephew, state Rep. Grier Hopkins, also of Fairbanks.
Guttenberg’s experience in Alaska spans work as a carpenter and firefighter. For 25 years, he was a card-carrying member of Laborers Union Local 942.
“I joined the union in 1974, when the pipeline hit and worked on that, when we were just building the Dalton Highway and clearing the right of way for it. In construction, whatever I was called on I did,” Guttenberg said.
From 1998-2002, Guttenberg’s interests in politics and policymaking led him to the state Capitol, where he served as a House Finance aide during the legislative sessions. It was that grounding that led him to seek office.
As the result of redistricting, there was no incumbent in the district where Guttenberg resided. He ran, at the urging of friends. “I was kind of well known, I guess,” Guttenberg said. “I had worked on campaigns and helped people run for office.”
In 2002, he won election to the state House, where he served for 16 years. His leadership included chairing the Legislative Council, a contentious job that requires managing the Legislature’s business.
“Sometimes you step forward, and other times everyone else steps back,” said Guttenberg about his rise and service in Alaska politics.
But destiny rewards the well-prepared. And Guttenberg’s understated style belies an established network that served him well. He had chaired the Interior Democrats and later the Alaska Democratic Party. In 2018, Guttenberg stepped back. He decided not to seek re-election to the Alaska House. There were personal reasons.
“My wife had died in 2013,” he said. “I wasn’t going to not run when she passed away,” Guttenberg said. “But in 2018, I decided that I needed a break, never thinking, never thinking I would run again.”
But Guttenberg has done just that. Public service appeals to him. It is a calling, he said.
Guttenberg considers the role of serving on the borough assembly as more pragmatic than political. “It is about where the road is for a subdivision. It is about licensing issues and things more down to earth, basic and not partisan,” he said. “The height of your fence is not a partisan issue with your neighbor.”
And what special skills does Guttenberg bring to the local post? ”I have extensive finance and budget experience,” Gutenberg said. “I’ve been in leadership positions wherever I went.”
Two issues important to Guttenberg are expanding broadband and bringing a veterans’ cemetery to development.
There was a groundbreaking for a Fairbanks veterans’ cemetery, at a hilltop site past Ester. But Guttenberg said the governor’s budget cuts halted the project.
“It needs to be finished,” Guttenberg said. “This is a big veterans’ town. My father was a veteran. They deserve this.”
1. Name two of the borough’s most pressing issues and how you would address them.
Major maintenance is a big issue. We need to maintain and fix what’s broken before it needs to be replaced at a greater cost. Living within our means is always a struggle. A tight budget reflects an efficient organization.
2. What new services are needed in the borough and how would you pay for them?
Transitioning to the new way Carlson Center will be challenging but the people clearly want it to happen. One of my issues is getting the state to finish building the Fairbanks veterans cemetery. The groundbreaking took place in 2018. It needs to be finished. That will have no costs to the borough and increase the desirability of our community.
3. What cuts are needed in borough government and what should happen with the money saved?
As a member of the assembly, I will work defining what we can do, and how we deliver the education and services that our children, friends, and neighbors want in a cost effective and efficient way.
4. Should the borough hire more code enforcement officers to deal with the backlog of land use complaints?
This question is asked because there obviously is an issue. The backlog of complaints illustrates that. Realtors and homeowners need to be able resolve complaints and disputes in a reasonable amount of time. The backlog needs to be addressed.
5. The largest annual appropriation by the borough is for public education. Is the local contribution to education too low, too high, or just right?
That depends on which definition you use. Constitutionally, the state has primary responsibility for education, and it needs to bring more resource to the table and stop passing on its cuts to the local level. I would always fund education as high as possible and needed.
6. What makes you qualified to hold this office?
I am a retired Alaska construction laborer and having served 16 years in the Alaska Legislature, I have extensive experience dealing with the state’s budget, resource management issues and advocating for Fairbanks. I have been in Fairbanks for 51 years. I have stood up for jobs, the federal government, advocated for veterans and better broadband. I want to continue that role.