Ketchikan Regular Election Oct. 04, 2022
My name is Christopher Cumings. I am a 38 year old father of one son, a long time Ketchikan resident (we moved here when I was in elementary school), and life long Alaskan. I am running for a seat on the City Council because I love this place and its people, and so I want to use my life experience and talent to help make Ketchikan a better place. Many years ago, I decided to put my roots down here permanently, and so I would like to play a role in shaping the future of this community, since Ketchikan’s future is my future. I am also running to try and give voice to a portion of our population who doesn't usually have a seat at the decision making table.
I was born in Anchorage; my family moved down to Ketchikan when I was in fourth grade. I went to school at Point Higgins, Schoenbar, and Kayhi, before heading south for college. I attended the University of Oklahoma, where I studied Political Science and earned a B.A., summa cum laude. I stayed down in Oklahoma for law school, but I was not able to finish as an opiate addiction and untreated mental illness pushed me to the edge of despair.
My experience with struggling to recover from addiction drastically altered my worldview, and pushed me to live my life dedicated to service to other people, especially those on the margins of society. I've been down in the gutter myself, and so I understand how hard it is to get better, especially when the needed help wasn't there. I've spent much of my adulthood drifting in and out of poverty, depending on the state of my mental health. From that first hand experience, I can say we do not do a very good job, as a community, of providing enough help to those who need it most. Because of that, I am a strong believer in "trickle up economics/politics". For example, Medicaid alone makes a very significant impact on our community; it sustains hundreds of jobs in Ketchikan, between PeaceHealth, KIC, Community Connections, and all the smaller healthcare providers.
One of the most significant challenges facing Ketchikan is the lack of affordable housing. I know this from personal experience; it is nearly impossible to secure a 2-3 bedroom rental at a price range that is affordable to those of us who live in or near poverty level. One rather simple idea that would provide at least some immediate relief to renters who are struggling most, is to exempt the first $1000 of residential rent from sales tax. We could pay for it by removing the cap on sales tax. The current structure is incredibly regressive.
What's more, it's not just rent/mortgage payments that make living in Ketchikan expensive. The cost of utilities is a significant factor too. For example, my KPU bill has gone up in excess of 50% across the last 5-6 years. We need to reconsider how we pay for these services and how to split up the burden in a more equitable manner. Further, not only does Ketchikan suffer from a problem of cost, in regards to housing, but also of quantity, not to mention quality. This is not a problem the City can solve on its own. Outside partners, whether federal or state, public or private, need to be brought in.
A second priority of my campaign is regulating tourism, in particular, that which is cruise ship based. For more than 20 years, we've allowed the industry to grow largely unchecked. In fact, we operated with no real plan, except constant growth. We are now at the point where we are inundated with more visitors than we can handle. I was camping out at Signal Creek a few weeks ago, and, for the first time in 30 years of going out there, I actually had someone come into my campsite and interrupt our breakfast, in order to ask for directions back to the dock -- at Ward Lake! Of course, that area isn't governed by the City of Ketchikan, but my point remains. We are being driven out of our "safe spaces", our store shelves are being run dry, our roads are congested, our recreation areas are being inundated, our air is dirtier.
This island is our home. Tourism should improve and enhance our quality of life. If it does not, things need to change. To that extent, I am proposing that we establish a citizen board to govern the direction and regulation of tourism, island wide. I'm thinking something similar to what Prince William Sound communities established in response to the Exxon Valdez oil spill, but with greater power to regulate. The city and borough governments do not seem well equipped to direct the future of the industry, because they face a massive conflict of interest, seeing as how a significant portion of local governmental revenue is generated from this industry. We need to have a conversation as a community about passenger limits, about rules in regards to the number of buses on our roads, about how to keep fish in our freezers in the face of competition from cruise ship charters. On this topic, I'm trying to keep an open mind. I have my own opinions and ideas, however, if elected, I would use the position to support the consensus of the community, even if I don't necessarily agree.
For the sake of brevity, I will only briefly touch on a few other priorities of mine. One is improving access to mental health treatment, particularly for children and the severely ill. Our options in the community are extremely limited. Speaking of healthcare, I would also prioritize solutions to our over reliance on traveling providers. A solution to that problem (and other challenges we face) is to solve our "brain drain" -- the kids who go through our school system, and then don't stay/come back after graduation. Those kids quite literally represent us training and educating another community's workers. We are big enough to develop our own doctors, lawyers, psychologists, surgeons, and city managers. We could go a long way in plugging that drain by providing our kids incentives to put their roots down here.
Another priority of mine is to improve collaboration with tribal entities, especially Ketchikan Indian Community. We live on Native ground. We will never overcome the challenges we face without both governments working together.
Something else is that with the rise of the "Work From Home" movement, Ketchikan could build an impressive professional class, but only if we make it an attractive place to move. Along those same lines, I feel our leadership to date has done a poor job of taking advantage of our close proximity to Seattle, in attempting to attract businesses to relocate here. We offer a similar climate and culture, but with less crime, less congestion, less pollution, less taxes, and an overall slower, more relaxed way of life. Plus, we are well connected to the outside world. We offer many of the advantages of city living, without most of the problems.
One final priority of mine is addressing the extreme crisis we face in finding affordable childcare. The City can take a number of steps towards alleviating this crisis, the most important of which is by providing seed funding to help new providers enter the market. Our crisis is a problem of both quality and quantity. In talking to current and former providers, meeting licensing requirements imposed by the state is a major barrier to opening a new practice.
Ketchikan is at a crossroads. I am running because I want to serve our community, to make life better, and to be an advocate for those who are all too often forgotten. I believe that my unique combination of education, talent, and (most importantly) my life experiences would make me a valuable asset to the city council and to the community as a whole.
Additional Statement Received: October 01, 2022
Published: October 02, 2022
My name is Christopher Cumings and I am running for a one year seat on the Ketchikan City Council. I wanted to write a closing statement to readers of Sitnews, because my ideas and priorities are a little bit sharper focused, compared to where they were when I first started this process.
My biography has not changed, so I will omit it here. The candidate statement I submitted after I initially filed is a good place to find out a little bit more about who I am and where I come from. The most important point I want to make about myself is that I am running to be a different kind of elected official – I’m not the kind of person who usually does this kind of thing, which I believe is a major asset of mine.
My platform is focused on protecting and improving quality of life here in Ketchikan. I believe the priorities of our municipal government have been mixed up for years. It is time we refocus the efforts and resources of our local government towards making life better for those of us who make Ketchikan our home. For too many years, it has felt like the most important priority to our municipal leadership is promoting constant, unrestrained growth of cruise ship based tourism, which is, in some sense, a form of trickle down economics.
I have a tendency to write too much so I will get straight to priorities of mine –
I recognize that some of the priorities I discussed above are not traditionally considered within the scope of municipal government. I bring these things up because I believe that the job of a city councilmember does not end at the council chamber doors. Many of these issues will require community collaboration. Further, elected officials can accomplish a lot in their communities simply by helping to shape the discussion around issues of importance. Finally, of all our community members, elected officials are often best positioned to drive change, if they are willing to do so.
To wrap up, I’m running for City Council because I believe I have a lot to offer our community and I have some creative ideas about how to solve the challenges we face. I am not a traditional type of candidate. As a result, I can bring a very unique perspective and set of life experiences to the table, which will allow me to be a powerful advocate for Ketchikan, and especially those of us living on the margins of society.
I believe in “trickle up economics”. I believe that taking care of our own is just as much “economic development” as expanding the cruise ship dock or attracting new industry. In fact, improving quality of life is a superior type of development, because it doesn’t just improve our wallets, but also our minds, bodies, and souls, too.
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