Senator calls for permanent fund, scholarship changes

Sen. Albert Kookesh addresses the Feb. 22 Native Issues Forum. Photo by Ed Schoenfeld.

The senator representing Alaska’s largest legislative district is suggesting major changes to the state’s Permanent Fund and the governor’s scholarship program.

Albert Kookesh, an Angoon Democrat, spoke during the Native Issues Forum in Juneau today (Feb. 22). Kookesh, who could be serving his final term, speculated on what he would do if he was king for a day.

He said the $41 billion Permanent Fund should be divided into three accounts.

One, starting with $20 billion, would fund annual dividends. The second, with half of what’s left, would become an education endowment. The third would use what remains to form an energy and transportation endowment.

“I’m not the king for the day. But that’s something I wish we could do and I wish people would think about it. And I’d take that whole thing to a vote of the people. Tell me what you think. We could take 20 billion dollars and give you a permanent fund check for the rest of your life and guarantee it,” he said.

Kookesh also said he would change Governor Sean Parnell’s scholarship program.

He said it helps very few rural students, who attend schools with few, if any, specialized staff. He said he told Parnell he would instead put the money into the Head Start preschool program.

“And I said ‘Governor, we don’t need the money on this end of the spectrum for scholars. We need it on the other end of the spectrum for students who are just starting out so they have good beginnings’,” he said.

Kookesh represents more than 125 villages and small cities in Southeast, Prince William Sound and the Interior.

He’s in his 16th year in the Legislature.

He faces an uphill re-election battle, because reapportionment left him in a Southeast-only district with about a quarter of his current constituents. That puts him up against Sitka Republican Bert Stedman, who will retain about three quarters of his current Senate district.

Kookesh also co-chairs the Alaska Federation of Natives and chairs the Sealaska Corp. board of directors.

Watch Kookesh and AFN President Julie Kitka address the Native Issues Forum on GavelAlaska TV archives.