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By ZACHARY HALASCHAK
Daily News Staff Writer
Ketchikan had a visit from former Senate president and current Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, Sen. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, during the weekend.
Although Meyer wasn’t in Ketchikan to campaign, he sat down with the Daily News on Saturday to discuss his visit, the upcoming election and the current state of the Legislature.
Meyer said he traveled to the First City was to visit his friend, Ketchikan’s former state Rep. Bill Williams.
“I served on the Finance Committee and that's where I met Bill Williams,” Meyer said. “And that's my primary purpose for being here is to see Bill. We had a ceremony for him last weekend and I couldn't make it.”
While in town, Meyer said he met with a diverse group of folks and got to see the results from some of the projects he has worked on during his 18 years in the Legislature.
Among the places toured were Peacehealth Ketchikan Medical Center, the Ketchikan Pioneer Home, the Ketchikan Shipyard and even a mariculture farm.
“When I was the capital budget chairman, I, you know, I remembered the Pioneer Home, remembered the shipyard,” Meyer said. “... There's just been a lot of state money that's come down to Ketchikan and various projects that at the time I felt like were very worthwhile projects.
“Obviously coming from Anchorage I had a lot of needs and demands on me as well, but I just feel like the need was greater here than some of the other projects,” he added.
As a current member of the Senate, Meyer cannot actively campaign and collect donations while in session, a fact he said might hinder his campaign for lieutenant governor a bit. Despite this, Meyer said he is uniquely poised for the role.
He explained that, one, he’s ready to move on from his current role; and two, he feels he would be the best liaison between the executive branch and the Legislature.
“I've always felt like if I can't be effective and I don't feel like I'm doing a good job for my constituents, then somebody else should take my place,” Meyer said. “And the last couple of years, I've felt that way. And it dawned on me quitting doesn't take care of the problem, because the problem — I believe — is the executive branch, the governor, lieutenant governor.”
“The reason why we've had nine special sessions in the last three years is because you have an administration that, I feel, doesn't know how to work with the Legislature,” Meyer said. “... And I think that's where I can help whoever the new governor is. Having been in the Legislature as long as I have, I know how to work with them on a one-to-one basis. I know what motivates them.”
Meyer also acknowledged that the role of lieutenant governor is not to be heavy-handed on policy, but rather to work in an administrative capacity.
“There's no policy involved, so people who want to run for lieutenant governor to fix crime or the fiscal gap or whatever — that's not the right position,” Meyer said. “So I think I'm qualified for that because I do have a degree, and a master's degree in business administration and a master's degree in public administration. So administration is kind of my background.”
Meyer went on to explain that, historically, lieutenant governors have, at times, had more hands-on roles when it comes to policy based on who was serving as governor. Although, he said that he hopes that is not the case.
“A lot of times the lieutenant governor's position is whatever the governor kind of wants it to be,” Meyer said. “And again, in this case, I would hope that the governor would use me as a liaison to the Legislature to work with the Legislature.”
But, as both a candidate and a sitting senator, Meyer has to wear two hats.
And in his current role as senator, Meyer sees reductions — but not new taxes — as key to bridging the deficit.
“Just like the private sector, we need to reduce to the new environment that we find ourselves,” he said. “... So we need to make further reductions. We had a lot of reductions last year that we had to give back up because now the House has flipped to Democrat, and they didn't agree with the reductions we wanted, nor did the governor. So we want reductions. We want reforms.”
Meyer said that he thinks many aspects of the state government have become too bloated and should be reformed by “merging,” saying that reforms are key to fixing a broken system.
“We have a whole bunch of different health insurance programs. If we could merge them into one it will save over a $125 million he noted.
Meyer said he wants the structure of government to be reevaluated in order to prevent future fiscal ills going forward.
“We want to restructure our government, so that when the economy does get back to where we think it will be in a few years, that we don't go into spending spree again,” Meyer said. “And so we feel like a spending cap is important and necessary. And again, that was something we tried to pass last year and the House wouldn't accept it.”
And despite his frustration with the House and it being an election year, Meyer said he remains hopeful that a fiscal plan could be agreed upon this session. He also seemed to believe that there was certainly a greater sense of urgency than during last year’s series of special sessions.
“To answer your question, do I think we're going to be 211 days again? No, I don't,” Meyer said. “... I just think that the last year was an embarrassment to all of us, including the governor, because the governor is the one that kept calling us back and so I don't think he's going to want to do that either anymore.”
“I think we'll come to a quicker resolution this year. I'm not sure what that's going to be yet, but I think the motivation is there on both sides to make that happen,” Meyer later added.
Meyer also had thoughts on some other issues facing the state.
Oil is obviously a major driver of the economy in Alaska, and Meyer has built his career in the industry, starting in 1983 when ARCO moved him from Nebraska to work in Alaska. Meyer currently works as a procurement coordinator for ConnocoPhillips.
When asked if he believed humans were to blame for global warming, Meyer wasn’t sure.
“I guess I don't have an answer to that. I think that our climate is constantly changing — I mean if you look at the history — Ice Age to where we're at now,” Meyer said. “Now whether or not — more humans and more breathing and more cars, more fossil fuel — if that's contributing to the warming, I, I would say it probably is, but I don't know if that's the problem and I don't know how much of it is just a natural phenomena. ... I think that's still an ongoing science debate.”
In terms of crime, another major issue facing the state, Meyer spoke about the flaws of Senate Bill 91, which has since been augmented by Senate Bill 54, a bill that increased penalties for certain crimes in the state.
“The intent (of SB 91) was certainly good because what we saw was our recidivism rate was almost 70 percent,” Meyer said. “We were throwing people in jail and then they were, they were getting out, and now they were committing violent crimes because when you take a non-violent person and put him in a culture and environment with violent people, then they tend to become violent.”
Meyer said that, in his view, fixing crime isn’t easy; rather it is an evolving concept that should be addressed as new issues arise. He cited synthetic drugs like “bath salts” to illustrate his point.
“Frankly, crime is one of those things you'd have to work on every year because there's always something new popping up,” Meyer said. “In fact, one of the things that I've done, and it's — I sometimes feel like I'm chasing my tail — is these synthetic drugs, whether it'd be ‘spice’ or ‘bath salts,’ you know, you finally get one outlawed and then they change a few chemicals.”
But despite individual issues in the Senate, and as the days tick closer to the Republican primaries, Meyer said he wants people to know him as the candidate with experience. He said what separates him from the other GOP candidates is his record.
“I think if you want somebody with the legislative experience and experience in elected office and somebody that you know and kinda trust, I mean, having been in office 26 years, like I said, ... that's an honor and it's a trust that you put in someone,” Meyer said, “and so the people know me, and they know where I stand on various issues and positions and they know I'm approachable.”
“If you really feel like the problem is between the governor and the legislative branch, then that's where I think I can be of most help to the citizens because I can be that liaison between the governor and legislative branch,” Meyer said.
The GOP primary elections will be held on Aug. 21. Other Republican candidates for lieutenant governor include former Rep. Lynn Gattis, Edie Grunwald, Stephen Wright and Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak.