Candidate Profile

Jesse Kiehl

District 1 Assembly

(Photo by Michael Penn/Juneau Empire)

About

Jesse Kiehl

Age: 41

Family: Spouse Karen Allen. Two daughters, ages 13 & 15

Occupation: Legislative Aide & Assembly member

Current community involvement: UAS Campus Council; volunteer outdoor skills instructor in Juneau middle schools; I volunteer with Girl Scouts of Alaska, and KTOO.

Previous government or other relevant experience: Juneau Finance Committee Chair, 2017; Juneau Deputy Mayor, 2016; Juneau Marijuana Policy Committee Chair, 2016; Juneau Lands Committee Chair, 2015; Juneau Human Resources Committee Chair, 2013-2014; Juneau City Attorney Selection Committee Chair, 2013; Juneau Assembly, 2011-present; Legislative Aide, Sen. Egan, 2009-present; Legislative Aide, Sen. Elton, 2000-2009; Executive Secretary, Alaska Board of Education & Early Development 1999-2000; Intern, Gov. Tony Knowles, 1997; Intern, U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, 1996

Highest level of education: B.A. in Politics & Theatre, Whitman College

Quick Hits

Do you support the Juneau Access Project (extending the road to the Katzehin River and a future ferry terminal)? No

Do you support continuing to budget for the statutory maximum in local funding for Juneau’s school district? Yes

Do you support the city’s planned Pederson Hill subdivision? Yes

Stance on Proposition 1? Support

Stance on Proposition 2? Support

Halibut or salmon? Fresh: halibut; Frozen, pickled, or smoked: salmon

Positions on Juneau Issues

Senior Sales Tax Exemption

There’s an organized group pushing for the full sales tax exemption for seniors to be reinstated. Where do you stand on this issue?

Elders are a treasure to our community, our families, and the causes they volunteer for. The growth in our senior population is good for all of Juneau. At the same time, we need 911 ready to respond with equal speed whether the call comes from a senior or a child. And the city plows the streets in front of retirees’ homes just the same as working families. The 2015 reform took an almost $3 million program with costs skyrocketing toward 5 percent of the city budget and made it sustainable. With the rebate, we made sure that more than one third of seniors with lower incomes pay no more than they did before, so we wouldn’t price seniors out of town. And it’s working — the latest numbers show Juneau’s senior population is still growing, which is good for everyone. With the 2015 reform in place, next year’s retiree can get the recognition of being tax exempt on essentials, just like older seniors. And the rebate gives future elders who might otherwise struggle to retire here some help. Honoring all our elders, and helping those who need it is a good balance.

Homelessness

The Juneau Assembly passed a controversial anti-camping ordinance to deal with people sleeping in downtown alcoves. Do you feel this ordinance has worked as intended?

I didn’t understand the intent of taking a criminal approach to homelessness. It didn’t stop people from being homeless or make people be homeless where nobody could see them. It got homeless people to band together in makeshift shanty encampments. It didn’t make people feel safer; it concentrated problems where dysfunction could feed on other dysfunction and grow. And now that the second shanty camp is cleared, people who don’t function well enough to use the Glory Hole are sleeping in doorways again. So the new law is working exactly as predicted: it’s not.

Luckily, we’re doing other things at the city that should actually help. Housing First will get 32 people off the street. We’re pursuing a warming shelter for the coldest nights and looking into leveraging Housing First to add more locations at a lower cost. And the city won a grant to fund a homeless coordinator who will lead the work on other solutions that make a difference, instead of just moving the homeless around.

Mining ordinance

The mayor has appointed a task force to look at rewriting the community’s mining ordinance. Proponents say the existing review is duplicative of state and federal permits. Opponents say it would strip away protections from impacts on the community. Where do you stand?

We know you can do mining right in Southeast Alaska. Our two operating hard rock mines are proof. Doing it right under our downtown business district and above our main water supply is a higher bar to clear. We need to have fair rules that give mining companies an honest shot to do it right, and Juneau residents clear protections for the clean air and water we need. So the proposal to delete all local control isn’t right for Juneau. We shouldn’t just decide we’re okay with whatever the people in power in DC any given year will permit.

On the other hand, I support looking for ways to make local permits smoother and more efficient. That’s the approach we took with marijuana businesses—they can pursue state and city licenses at the same time, so our city can make fair decisions for Juneau, and businesses don’t have to go through the same steps twice.

Those are the principles I’ll apply to studying the issue. It has to protect Juneau, give a mining company a fair shot, and not slant the playing field one way or the other.

Budget

This year the City and Borough of Juneau passed a $335 million budget without any staff layoffs or closing any facilities. It did this by drawing on more than $800,000 from its reserves and slowing down its debt repayment schedule. What would you propose to balance the budget next year?

This year, we decreased staff in the general government budget again, as we have for several years. I’m proud the city did it without sending out pink slips. You make a recession worse by laying people off because they have to sell their houses, likely take their kids out of school, and drive down Juneau’s population and economy. Alaska learned that lesson the hard way in the 1980s, when massive budget cuts caused an economic depression.

To avoid that, Juneau responded to declining state and federal revenue—and state job cuts—by getting more efficient. We combined departments, reduced staff through attrition, and took city surplus online. I’ll work to continue those approaches. The 1% sales tax package has $2 million for technology investments to make city government more efficient, too.

I’m willing to take the hard look to see if our current practices are the best ones for a changing economy. City government must invest first in the essentials, like police and fire. We need to maintain the infrastructure that families and businesses need, like streets, schools, and the airport. And in a world where more and more jobs can be done from anywhere with an internet connection, we have to provide a quality of life that attracts families and entrepreneurs to the capital city. I’m committed to striking that balance for Juneau’s long-term future.

Climate change

Hurricanes on the Gulf Coast and retreating glaciers close to home show the impacts of climate change are widespread. Following the Trump administration’s repudiation of the scientific consensus over the human causes of climate change, the Juneau Assembly had difficulty this year deciding how it would respond – if it all. What do you think is the appropriate local strategy in the face of climate change?

Juneau’s strategy has — and should have — nothing to do with who’s in power in Washington, D.C. Our climate action plan calls for reducing Juneau’s emissions and adapting to changes in the weather that climate change dumps on Southeast Alaskans’ doorsteps.

Our next step is to look at the energy plan the Commission on Sustainability has drafted. There are a lot of ways for our community to save money on energy, improve the economy, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Those things benefit everyone. And while our tourism economy benefits from people wanting to see a glacier before they’re gone, we also need to plan for the long-term effects on tourism, commercial fishing, and other industries climate change will bring. With some thoughtful planning, we can help the economy, do our part to reduce a global problem, and be ready when the rest of the world delivers changes to our region.

Housing

Juneau’s real estate market is among the tightest in the nation. Single family homes routinely sell in less than 30 days. What role – if any – do you see local government in supporting the availability of affordable and workforce housing?

We’ve had a lot of success in recent years adjusting city rules so developers can create more housing units. With our limited land base, density is important. Those changes are helping, and the market is responding. Moving forward, there’s $1 million in the 1 percent sales tax package for the affordable housing fund, so lower-income working people don’t get left out of Juneau’s growth.

I’ve worked on selling city land for housing throughout my time on the Assembly. We’ve made progress with the Jackie Street subdivision, and we’re getting close to Pederson Hill. Juneau’s housing action plan calls for regular, predictable sales of city land. That will let developers and individuals build more houses and apartments, without crashing the real estate market for existing homes. Right now, state budget cuts are driving down the business cycle in Juneau. The city should take advantage of lower construction costs to get long-planned land sales ready so there’s space to grow as things rebound.

With careful work, the city can help get Juneau’s housing market “unstuck” and poised for future growth.

KTOO solicited the candidates’ answers by email. We’ve edited their written responses for typos, grammar and news writing style — but not for length or substance.