Q&A with Dennis Harris, democratic candidate for Alaska State House District 32

The Cordova Times gave these Alaska State House District 32 candidates the same five questions

Dennis Harris

Kodiak, Democrat challenger

1: What would you do legislatively to keep the Alaska Marine Highway System fully funded to keep its routes on schedule and the ferries well maintained, as the state does for its road systems?

We need to frame it exactly that way. The Marine Highway is just that, a road on water. It brings food and goods; it connects communities not a part of the road system. We don’t expect every road to pay for itself in tolls, why we do we expect something just as critical, if not more-so, to pay for itself. We are funding it because thousands of people rely on it. It is an investment in the economy and the livelihoods of Alaskans. It is a priority.

2: What more should the state be doing to help young harvesters get a stake hold in commercial fisheries, with training in business management and affordable loans?

We need to invest in trade school & apprenticeships (and education as a whole) which will help people develop the skills needed to enter the industry prepared and increase the chance of success. Also I fully support having business management classes and other topics that would help the community, being offered at a reduced rate by the university system/community colleges. I am scheduled to teach a mini course (at Kodiak College) on nonprescription drugs and how to treat minor conditions for $25, so it is already somewhat in place, we just need to utilize it. And regarding low interest loans, I think that is great, we need to do multiple things to incentivize small business development and help younger people get a start in the economy.

3: What opportunities do you see for increased renewable energy projects to help slow climate change and benefit the economy?

We can become a leader nationally if we invest in renewable energy. We can start with a few model/representative cities for a couple years, troubleshoot issues, then expand it to the rest of the state. It will reduce the cost of energy, which makes businesses more competitive and creates jobs, it will diversify our economy, and it will lead to additional revenue that is something other than taxes. Oil is not a long-term plan, but if we look to Kodiak’s ~100 percent renewable energy & Cordova’s micro-grid, we will make the energy sector in Alaska cutting edge and not only slow climate change, but make Alaska the renewable energy leader in the nation.

4: The PFD dividend was slashed this year to help the state balance its budget, with the burden falling on individual Alaskans.  Would you support an increased sharing of this burden by the oil and gas industry, and how so?

Cutting the PFD was indefensible. The legislature told the people of Alaska, you will bear the burden, a family might have lost 10-15 percent of their income, but the oil companies, executives, and people from out of state are virtually, if not entirely, unaffected. That was rent for months, heat in the winter, children’s education. We need to negotiate a better deal with the oil companies and make sure they don’t keep taking advantage of us. I am furious at this administration for cutting education, healthcare, and the PFD, while giving some of the most profitable companies in the world (fossil fuel companies & bankers) over a billion in state bonds and tax credits.

5: Substance abuse continues to be a huge problem in Alaska. What more needs to be done to end this crisis?

I have seen both friends and patients lose everything, and seen families be torn apart because of substance abuse. As a pharmacist I would be the only healthcare professional in the state house, and there are 5 concrete things we need make sure of in Alaska.

  1. We need to make sure first responders have the reversal agent (naloxone).
  2. Increase drug take-back/waste systems so people don’t become targets and decreases misuse.
  3. We need to fund prescriber training so pain can be adequately managed (and more effectively use agents other than opioids).
  4. Fund addiction and mental health treatment rather than just throwing people in jail or leaving them in the hospital (which is actually more expensive).
  5. We need to fund judicial programs like the wellness/therapeutic courts that don’t just criminalize substance abuse but connect with social work and other fields to significantly decrease relapse.

But also, we need to stabilize the economy and focus on making housing more affordable, invest in healthcare and education, and make it so people aren’t struggling so much just to make ends meet. We have the highest unemployment in the nation and cost of living is incredibly high. Addressing these issues will make people less susceptible to substance abuse and more likely to succeed. That will decrease the root cause of most poverty, crime, and drug abuse, rather than having us scramble to deal with the aftermath.