Senate District Q - Jesse Kiehl

(Photo Courtesy Jesse Kiehl)

Name: Jesse Kiehl

District: Senate District Q

Area: Juneau

Party Affiliation: Democrat

Where were you born? Anchorage

If you weren't born in Alaska, when did you come here? Lifelong Alaskan

Age on election day: 42

If you've attended college, which schools did you attend? What's your highest degree achieved?
Whitman College, B.A. in Politics and Theater

What is or was your main career?
Juneau Assemblymember & Legislative aide to Southeast Alaska Senators

If you've held or run for public office before, which one(s)?
Juneau Assemblymember, 2011-present

If you have a spouse or significant other whom you live with, what is their name?
Karen Allen

If you have children, what are their first names and ages?
Tsifira, 16
Adara, 14

Why are you running for office?
I’m an Alaskan, born and raised, and I want our state’s future to be everything for my kids and future generations that it’s been for me. To make that a reality, we need to seize opportunities—to invest in education and infrastructure—as well as addressing challenges with public safety and our state’s ongoing budget deficit.

What are the most important issues facing Alaska?
Our state needs a stable, balanced budget. While the deficit was lower this year, $700 million is still too high and will quickly drain away our savings. A balanced, predictable budget will give the private sector the stability to grow. Healthy investments in education, public safety, and infrastructure will contribute to a robust economy for Alaska’s future.

What would you do to reduce crime in Alaska?
We need to address crime in Alaska from several directions at once. First, we need to adequately fund public safety. As chair of the Juneau Assembly’s Finance Committee, I helped build a budget that increased staffing for the Juneau Police Department. We also need to fix Alaska’s pension system. As a legislative staffer, I’ve worked on legislation to bring back a real pension for public employees. Without pensions, we’ll continue to struggle with both recruiting and keeping our public safety officers—at great cost. We also need to address the addiction problem sweeping Alaska. Our state needs to invest in treatment and services for those struggling with addiction. On the Juneau Assembly we increased treatment capacity and funded mental health services.

Should dividends be paid under the original dividend formula?
We should protect a guaranteed split between dividends and public services in the constitution. We also need to make sure that government is providing essential services. As Alaska matures from using almost exclusively oil to pay for what the state does, we’ll have to use some Permanent Fund earnings to balance the budget. A constitutional amendment lets Alaskans vote on that division.

Should Permanent Fund earnings be used to pay for state government? How much?
The original intent of the Fund was to ensure Alaska can provide essential services as oil fades. I support a constitutional amendment to protect the Fund. We should set a maximum draw, so future legislatures can’t ignore the effects of inflation the way the last one did. We should also put a split in place between how much the state can use for services and how much must go to the dividend. As Alaska’s economy develops and matures from dependence on oil alone, we’ll have to use some Permanent Fund earnings to balance the budget. But Alaskans should also be able to count on a PFD.

What, if anything would you cut from the budget?
We need to make sure the state spends money strategically, using well-thought-out, long term plans. When the state makes last-minute decisions, money gets wasted. For example, after spending millions building dayboats, the state just announced it’s considering a last-minute redesign that will cost millions more and will negate the original purpose of reliable, lower-cost dayboats.

Should Alaska have new or increased taxes? What would you suggest?
An income tax will help connect a healthy, growing economy with the state budget. That way, we can pay for the basic infrastructure and essential services that support a robust economy. An income tax is the best choice because it means nonresident workers contribute here, instead of paying taxes to their home states on income earned in Alaska.

Have humans contributed to climate change, and if so, does the state bear any responsibility to undo some of the effects?
Yes, we have. The state has a responsibility to Alaskans who are impacted by climate change to help mitigate those effects. As a Juneau Assemblymember, I’ve worked on Juneau’s plan to get to 80% renewable energy by 2045. Many pieces of that plan are things the state should do, too.

Do you agree or disagree with Gov. Walker's decision to expand Medicaid in 2014? How much do you believe that decision cost the state treasury?
Forty thousand more Alaskans with health coverage is good for our state. Alaskans without coverage suffer more preventable illnesses and bankruptcies. That costs our economy in lost productivity and higher emergency room costs. Access to health care not only saves the private sector money, it lets Alaskans with entrepreneurial dreams start a small business and not be tied to a big employer for the benefits. To date, Medicaid expansion has saved our state money and brought more than $1 billion more federal funds to grow our economy.