By Heidi Zemach for SCN
Ron Devon, a candidate for State Senate District N, recently qualified by petition to challenge incumbent Republican Senator Cathy Giessel in the November 6 general election. District N is the vast newly-redistricted area of 35,000 that includes Seward, Bear Creek, Moose Pass, Cooper Landing and Hope, Nikiski and Sterling on the Kenai Peninsula plus parts of the South Anchorage hillside, Girdwood, Indian, Bird, and Portage.
With just two months to go before the election, you probably still have not heard his name, seen his signs, nor even met the guy, although he visited earlier this summer. He has returned, and met Thursday evening September 13th with residents at the Resurrect Arts Coffee House and Gallery , and planned to knock on doors across town today before returning again for the Seward Chamber of Commerce’s Sept 27th Candidates Night.
He’s already knocked on 4,000 doors within his district, and has raised some $40,000 for radio and TV spots, and street signs that alone will cost $4,000. But without the better name recognition that his opponent has, he has a long way to go in the next eight weeks. He has some dedicated volunteers, and has thus far garnered the endorsements of some prominent Alaskans including Malcolm Roberts, David Gottstein, Vic Fisher, Katie Hurley and Arliss Sturgulewski.
Devon, a longtime Anchorage small businessman, is running unaffiliated, in keeping with his 25 years as an unaffiliated voter. What he lacks in political experience, he makes up for in an eagerness to change politics as usual in Juneau. “Like most Alaskans, I’m tired of divisive partisan politics. On day one, I’ll roll up my sleeves and work with both parties to get things done,” he said Thursday at the Resurrect Arts, before a small group, most of whom had never met him. Devon says he’s been well received by the majority of people he meets in the district: “Most people at the door, when I tell them I’m unaffiliated, they say ‘good for you.” They’re sick of party politics, and they say, ‘can’t we all work together?’ That’s why I’m running,” Devon said.
Devon went through the public school system, all four of his children are the product of public schools, so Devon is concerned about the trend toward the de-funding of public education and early childhood education programs, and toward privatizing education, which his opponent favors, starting with her support for publically-funded vouchers for private schools. Devon also is concerned about the governor’s cuts to Denali Kid Care, a program he said he would fully support.
Another difference between Devon and Giessel is Devon’s position on “Right to Privacy” as he says that is a right guaranteed in the Alaska state constitution. Unlike Giessel, Devon believes that women’s personal choices about their reproductive rights should be between a woman, her family, her doctor and her faith. The incumbent senator’s website, and her questionnaire from Alaska Family Values Voter Guide, states that she is clearly in the other camp. In fact, SB 191, a bill she co-sponsored, along with Minority leader John Coghill, Sens. Charlie Huggins, Fred Dyson, and Sen Donny Olson mandated that a pregnant woman wishing to receive an abortion, for whatever reason, would be required to undergo an ultrasound first, although the woman could decline to view it, or hear an explanation of what it contained.
Despite his underdog status, and late entry into the race due to redistricting, Devon is optimistic about his chances in the upcoming election. Some 53 percent of Alaskan voters actually are unaffiliated, like him, and the majority of regular people he meets share his disdain for the partisan political atmosphere in Juneau, he said. He hopes they will vote for people with moderate views, like him.
“There is too much at stake in our great state to just sit on the sidelines because of personal ideology. The job of an elected official is to serve Alaskans. To be effective you have to listen and work with others regardless of their party affiliation,” Devon said. “She signed a document (with the Alaska Tea Party) saying, ‘I will not work with the dems,’” added his campaign manager, Katherine Pfeiffer.
Sen. Giessel was one of just four republicans who chose not to participate in the senate bi-partisan caucus last session, led by Senate President Gary Stevens, a Kodiak republican who represented the district that Seward was in, along with Paul Seaton, a Homer republican. The caucus was where committee appointments and chairmanships were made, where appropriations were doled out for district projects, where bills and budgets were discussed and decided prior to their vote on the floor, Devon said. “She relegated herself to obscurity, and her record these last few years have been pretty pathetic,” he said. Giessel’s minority party status did not give her much ability to get the roadwork, and sidewalk repairs sought by who lived in her former district in Anchorage, he said: “We haven’t been well represented up in Anchorage, and we’ve been paying the price.”
Like the bipartisan caucus in the Senate, Devon opposes Governor Sean Parnell’s “Oil Reform” plan last session that would have “given away” two billion dollars a year in state tax revenues to the big oil companies operating at Prudhoe Bay, without guarantees that they would produce more oil in the pipeline, or develop oil fields. “They said “trust us” and we’ll do the right thing,” Devon said, but for 30 years, even before Gov. Sarah Palin’s ACES oil tax reform was enacted, they failed to even start developing the other oil fields they own such as the huge one at Point Thompson, nor tried to develop a gas pipeline from Prudhoe Bay to LGN plant in Nikiski, he said. Giessel, his opponent, supported the governor’s proposed oil tax reforms. Developing the state’s natural resources effectively and sensibly, and building new state gas pipelines, wherever they would prove most beneficial, would be his highest goal, Devon said.
His views on other Alaska environmental issues differ from his opponent as well. Devon opposes the proposed Pebble Mine Project, which Sen. Giessel supports. As a younger man, Devon worked at the oil fields in Prudhoe Bay. While in the Merchant Marines, he participated in the Exxon Valdez oil spill cleanup efforts, and witnessed first-hand its devastating effects on the environment and the local economy. As such, Devon has concerns about oil drilling in the Arctic, and pledged to do all he could to assure that it can be safely accomplished.
Devon was born in Fairbanks, and grew up in the small town of Anderson. His parents ran retail stores along the Parks Highway, including a gas station, a grocery store, and a Laundromat, where he also worked while growing up.. He has a B.S. Degree in Chemistry from the University of Alaska, Anchorage. Devon, and his wife Jeanne have three sons and a daughter between the ages of 11 -27: Byron, Rory, Alexandra and Lucas. A year ago they closed down their business, the Museum Store and Nature Source in the 5th Avenue Mall, which they ran for 20 years, and retired.
Jeanne, his wife, is the managing editor of the Mudflats blog, and is an acclaimed Alaska political writer and muckraker. She co-authored Blind Allegiance to Sarah Palin (Simon and Schuster, 2011) a New York Times Best-Seller. She is also a contributing author to Going Rogue – An American Nightmare, compiled by the editors of The Nation Magazine.