UAA Students Run for State Legislature, Anchorage Assembly

A handful of UAA students and recent graduates are running for the hot seat.

Jason Cline (R), a UAA graduate student in business administration and management, is challenging State Representative Sharon Cissna (D) for her district 22 seat. The district, often referred to as the U/Med district, includes UAA, APU, Providence Hospital, Alaska Psychiatric Institute and several other medical and educational intuitions.

Cissna has held the seat for 12 years and while she has sponsored few bills compared to other legislators, the health caucus she chairs has held more than fifty forums on critical health issues, bringing people together from across the state.

“I am in many different big networks and I try to get people together to talk about issues and come up with solutions,” Cissna said.  Her biggest accomplishment in the legislature was, “just hanging in there.”

Students leading the fight to lobby the legislature on behalf of UAA have met with Cissna repeatedly.

“Cissna has been one of the most, if not the most, responsive legislator to the university,” Nick Moe, USUAA’s Government Relations Director, said.

Cline, 23, already has two bachelor’s degrees from UAA: one in business administration and one in marketing.  As well as working on his master’s degree, he is working on a third bachelor’s degree in economics.  He has been an active leader in the College Republicans.

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“(Cissna) has done some great things but we are still seeing the same problems.” Cline said. “In terms of bills she’s filled I think I would be a little busier.”

Cline is a fiscal conservative who cites Milton Freidman, a free market economist, and Andrew Halcro, 2006 Republican gubernatorial candidate, as his idols.

“The way I see the direction that Alaska is heading we are on an unsustainable economic path,” Cline said.  “Current leadership, I feel, is not providing the correct direction or policies that could make sure we have a long-term sustainable economic future for Alaskans, and, as a young Alaskan myself, I am in an actionable position to apply some long-term policies.”

Both Cissna and Cline have unique connections to Alaska’s environment. Cline worked on the deck of a seine fishing boat in Price William Sound when he was thirteen. His family had three boats involved in the Exxon Valdez cleanup. Cline is on chancellor Ulmer’s Sustainability Action Board and has also talked to mining company officials about the proposed pebble mine project.

“He has talked to Pebble. He is really interested in getting the full information. I think it’s really impressive that he is willing to go out and get both sides,” said UAA Sustainability Director, Paula Williams, who serves on the Sustainability Action Board with Cline.

Cline holds to this ideal of being fully informed before making any decisions.

“I’d need a pretty strong convincing tale that Pebble Mine would not directly effect fisheries before I could sign onto it,” Cline said.

Cissna has distinguished herself as well. Cissna was a leader in the fight to create Chugach State Park when she was a student at UAA, where she got her bachelor’s in sociology and her master’s in public administration.

“I came (to Alaska) on a two-week vacation in 1967 and I made my decision right before the I was supposed to be catching the flight back to Seattle that I couldn’t leave, that I belonged here,” Cissna said.  “I fight the battle I always have and in elected office I have been able to take on a role that helps me do that better.”

Nursing program needs funding

Funding UAA’s nursing program is one of district 22’s clear needs. The program is the only one in the state and at least 200 students are currently waiting 12-18 months to begin the program due to a lack of instructors and the funds to hire them.

“There could be 400 (students waiting), there could be 800, depending on how you calculate the statistics,” Marie Samson said, coordinator of student affairs for UAA’s nursing program.

Cissna, who received earmarks for the nursing program to improve their distance delivery in 2004, said she does not think additional funding can be appropriated for the nursing program this legislative session. Instead she is focusing on keeping deferred maintenance funds for UAA in this year’s budget.

“(For) the university, anything it’s already got in (the budget), we are going to make sure it stays in.” Cissna said. “But I have been looking at my communities and making sure that communities out in the dark ages, because that’s where some of them are, get the support they need.”

Cline agrees that the nursing program is in need of more attention and funding.

“The university is obviously the hugest block of this district.  It’s one of the most important things,” Cline said.  If elected, he has pledged to introduce an earmark for nursing program funding in his first legislative session.

UAA Democrats in the running for Anchorage Assembly

Keli Booher (D), 19, is a freshman and 49th State Fellow at UAA with a double major in political science and philosophy. She recently declared her candidacy for the South Anchorage district 6 seat in the Anchorage Assembly after resigning as president of UAA’s University Democrats.

“Running for office had never really been on my agenda,” Booher said. “I am more about doing the community service and putting in the hours. The decision to run came out of seeing that we need better representation that is truly working for us.”

Joelle Brown (D), who graduated from UAA in May with a bachelor’s degree in political science, is running for Eagle River’s seat in the Anchorage Assembly.

“There are so many great ideas that young people have and Anchorage is ready for a change,” Brown said. “I’m really looking forward to running as a feminist.”

Brown is also hoping to improve public transportation with ideas for a shuttle from Eagle River.

“There is no reason we can’t have an efficient bus system with the current revenue stream we have,” Brown said.

With so many young candidates running, UAA may become a hot bed for political activity leading up to the elections in November 2010.

Jason Cline Interview Transcript

Sharon Cissna Interview Transcript

Jason Cline Interview from TNL Video on Vimeo.