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Chamber cancels debate after HD31 Republican Party imposes stipulations

City of Homer and Alaska Legislature

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect comments from House District 31 Republican nominee Sarah Vance and Party Chairman Nona Safra. 

The Homer Chamber of Commerce canceled its debate for the House District 31 race. The chamber announced Monday that it will not host a debate between incumbent and former Republican Paul Seaton and Sarah Vance due to stipulations put forth by the House District 31 Republican Party.

In an email to the Homer Chamber of Commerce and local press last week, Party Chairman Nona Safra said the local Republican Party will not approve any debates taking place in establishments where alcohol is served. Safra also noted that the “time, date, moderator and location” will be subject to her approval.  The party is also prohibiting Vance from participating in any debates prior to Oct. 15.

Safra also said in the email that those stipulations applied to a race for the south peninsula seat on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, but she walked that back in a statement Tuesday, saying it’s up to the candidates whether they want to participate in any forums or debates.

The chamber had scheduled its state house debate at Alice’s Champagne Palace on Sept. 25.

Executive Director Debbie Speakman said the chamber’s legislative committee met Monday to discuss the stipulations, but she said it decided that the chamber is unable and unwilling to meet the party’s requirements.  

“We’ve never had a party or candidate put forth stipulations. We were kind of blindsided for them to come to us three weeks prior to the event with these stipulations,” Speakman said. “It’s part of the job of the chamber to get information to our members. The way in which these stipulations were put forward, we just didn’t have the time nor actually the energy after planning these going on four months now to make the changes.”

The Chamber also canceled its debate for the assembly race because of the stipulations.

In a statement issued Tuesday evening, Safra said that the party mainly took issue with the chamber’s venue choice and that alcohol and food would be served during the debate. She did not comment on stipulations such as who moderates the event.  

Vance also issued a press release Tuesday evening after KBBI initially reported the debate was canceled.

Vance disputed the idea that the party is speaking for her, saying, “Only I speak for me as a candidate or my campaign.  All decisions regarding forums, interviews, round tables, and events will come directly from the campaign.”

She said she would agree to a debate after municipal elections wrap on Oct. 2 and that any forum would need to be set up under “mutually agreed terms.”

Vance declined to comment further in an interview, but did issue another statement responding to several questions from KBBI. Vance said in part that she wants a “neutral” moderator and venue for any debate, though she did not elaborate further.

The issue was also highlighted at the chamber’s mayoral and city council debate Tuesday night. The chamber offered both Vance and Seaton the opportunity to speak at the event. Seaton did take up that opportunity, but Vance did not attend the debate.

Vance said she was not contacted directly, though she did acknowledge in her statement Tuesday that she had deferred the chamber’s request to participate in the debate to Safra prior to the Republican primary. The chamber says it contacted Safra about the opportunity for Vance to speak.

It’s unclear whether a debate between Seaton and Vance will happen before the November election. KBBI has asked both candidates to appear on Coffee Table. Seaton has agreed to appear on the show, but Vance has not confirmed whether she will participate.

Aaron Bolton has moved on to a new position in Montana; he is no longer KBBI News Director. KBBI is currently seeking a News Director, and Kathleen Gustafson is filling in for the time being.
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