The featured speaker at Friday's monthly Mat-Su Democrats Egan Dinner was David Cheezem. He is running as the Democratic Party's entry in the race for Alaska House District 13. The seat is currently held by Republican Carl Gatto.
Cheezem opened up his talk, describing how he and his wife have created a viable bookstore in downtown Palmer over the past seven years, Fireside Books. Slowly but surely, he’s been able to expand his payroll. Just yesterday, for the first time, he was able to sign six paychecks. He stated, “I’ve started more jobs in Palmer than Carl Gatto, and I haven’t even gotten to Juneau yet.”
Cheezem then spoke about future economic development, especially the inevitable upcoming natural gas pipeline, its construction, and the impact of the income from the gas upon the state and Mat-Su Valley. He described a new educational and industrial paradigm, creating windmills here, not importing them from other states and countries. He claims that Mat-Su College could be a pillar of that development paradigm.
Cheezem was highly critical of Carl Gatto’s role in diminishing benefits for Alaska educators, and Gatto’s role in the continuing diminution of public school education here, even in the midst of new oil wealth.
David was also critical of Gatto’s lack of requests for capital projects, especially any having to do with local road maintenance and upgrades. He claims he will work hard to get not only our road system more responsive to what commuters need, he made a solid commitment toward development of commuter rail and other mass transit alternatives.
As one questioner wondered why new intersections are popping up along the Palmer-Wasilla Highway at tony subdivisions like Equestrian Acres, we’ve still got no turn lane off of Trunk Road onto the Palmer-Wasilla Highway. David did credit Carl Gatto with one thing, though” “Thanks to Carl, you won’t be able to watch Barney in your car anymore.”
Cheezem is very articulate and expressed interest in some bold ideas. His opponent, Carl Gatto, now serving his third term, has been far less doctrinaire than Valley legislators like Vic Kohring, Bev Masek and Scott Ogan, for instance. He's managed to distance himself a bit from the taint of the Corrupt Bastards Club. Gatto is one of the few GOP legislators to have never received donations from Veco. His 2005 and 2007 stands against legislative attempts to undermine attempts to let the cruise ship industry off the regulatory hook struck many moderates and progressives as courageous.
This should prove to be an interesting race.