Senator Albert Kookesh continues his focus on rural problems this legislative session. That includes a continued push for more rescue boats and improved village water systems.
Kookesh represents his hometown of Angoon, and more than a hundred villages and small cities in Southeast, the Interior and Prince William Sound.
That’s led him to push for health, safety and infrastructure projects in rural Alaska.
In Southeast, that’s meant continued funding for village-based rescue boats. Several are already in place.
“The Angoon one recently was able to go out to the south end of Chatham (Strait) and rescue a couple of people this summer. And those were brought on by the Coast Guard’s requesting us to do that,” he says.
He hopes to keep funding rescue boats through the capital budget.
Kookesh also wants legislation creating a water and sewer task force to help rural parts of the state. Environmental Conservation Department figures show more than 6,0000 homes without clean drinking water and safe sanitation.
“It’s really amazing to me that at this time and place in Alaska that we have areas that don’t have sewer systems and don’t have running water,” he says.
Most are in Western Alaska, where Kookesh represents dozens of villages.
One of the biggest issues before the Legislature this session is Governor Sean Parnell’s call to lower oil taxes. The House passed a measure last year, but Kookesh’s chamber balked.
“The Senate has a lot of concerns and I share those concerns that we have to have the full story here before we take some action. You saw the outcry last year from people around the state saying, ‘Let’s not give a whole lot of money to the oil companies unless we absolutely have to’,” he says.
The Angoon Democrat has several of his own bills before the Legislature this year. He says one would put the state’s child support practices into law.
“The non-custodial parent’s support obligation is based solely on his or her income without regard to what the other parent makes. This bill will change that to an income shares model, which calculates support as to the share of each parent’s income allocated to the child as if the original household was still intact,” he says.
This is the last session Kookesh will represent his district. Reapportionment took away his northern communities, and shifted boundaries to include Sitka, Ketchikan and Wrangell.
That sets up an election battle with Sitka Republican Senator Bert Stedman. But Kookesh says that shouldn’t change capitol dynamics.
“Senator Stedman and I have a great working relationship. If the redistricting plan doesn’t change at all then I would have to run for that position against him. I don’t want to say anything negative about him. I have a lot of respect for him and I would hope we have a good clean campaign and I’m not worried about him at all,” he says.
In addition to the Transportation Committee, Kookesh serves on the Senate’s Community and Regional Affairs panel and its State Affairs Committee.