Wilson will not seek re-election
Rep. Peggy Wilson
WRANGELL - State Rep. Peggy Wilson will no longer represent the Wrangell area to the state legislature, starting with the election of her successor.
Wilson announced her plans Friday during a floor session of the state legislature, citing a desire to spend more time with her family. Wilson's mother will require help around the home, and several new great-grandchildren have arrived in the family, Wilson said.
"My mom isn't well," she said. "She's so fragile that she hasn't been outside all winter long."
"We've had four new great-grandbabies born since December, and another one on the way," she added. "I've actually missed a lot with my grandchildren. I feel like I have a second chance, and I just want to spend some time with them."
Wilson's retirement announcement comes as Wrangell reaps a capital budget windfall of about $1.6 million and an additional almost $3 million in capital reallocations for road improvement projects and the Marine Services Center.
Wilson and State Sen. Burt Stedman played critical roles in obtaining those funds for Wrangell projects. Gov. Sean Parnell's proposed budget had originally contained no capital funds for Wrangell.
Redistricting altered Wilson's district to include Ketchikan - and exclude Petersburg - in 2012. Additional alterations slated for next year will renumber the current District 33 to 36, and remove most communities on Prince of Wales to another district, with the exception of Hydaburg, and Metlakatla which will remain with Wrangell and Ketchikan.
Wilson has been a state representative in Alaska since 2000, three years after relocating to Wrangell from Tok, where she began her Alaska residency in 1993. Prior to that, she served as a representative in the North Carolina state legislature from 1989 to 1993.
Wilson is currently the House Majority Whip, Chair of the House Transportation Committee, and a member of the House Finance subcommittees on Education & Early Development, Community & Economic Development, Corrections, and Environmental Conservation.
A bill to create a transportation fund is widely considered her signature issue. The fund would provide for transportation projects and bring Alaska's transportation funding scheme into alignment with those of other states, which collect a principal amount in the form of tolls and fees. The interest from the principal is then used to pay for transportation projects annually.
That bill passed the House a third time this year, but met resistance in the Senate Finance Committee, where Senators were opposed to relinquishing personal control over transportation funds, Wilson said.
Better transportation infrastructure would allow the state to diversify revenues derived from natural resources beyond the current heavy reliance on oil production, Wilson said.
Wilson's retirement thus removes a vocal proponent of that measure from the House, though Wilson says she hopes others will take up the cause.
"I hope somebody picks up the charge and continues with it," she said. "It takes someone with a look to the future and what's best for the state as a whole to pick up the torch and run with it and it seems like there's not as many people like that in the state legislature."
Wilson also listed education funding among the top priorities she's advocated for in the House, as well as a primary factor for having sought elected office in Alaska. She cited a bill factoring a cost differential between rural and urban school systems among her accomplishments.
"I came in because of education," she said. "Education funding had not been really great for the last 20 years before I came in. I really pushed for education funding to increase, and it has."
Even though she takes credit for some accomplishments relating to education, it's not enough, Wilson said.
"Because the cost of so many things has increased so much also in the last few years, we haven't really kept up with the needs of the schools," she said.
While these were her priorities, they're not the sum total of her work, Wilson said.
"There's just a lot of things that I've gotten in," she said.
While Wilson's departure could mean the end of a more intimate tie between Wrangell and the legislature, she said it wouldn't mean the end of effective representation.
"There's just a lot of things that have made a difference because I have been here," she said. "I'm very proud of all of those things. But I'm sure that if anyone else had been in, they would have done those things. You do what you can for your district and the state."
A smaller population relative to other areas in the state has sometimes put Southeast at a disadvantage when relating to the state as a whole, though personal ties and experience have in the past allowed the Southeast delegation to neutralize that difference, Wilson said.
"Legislators – the majority of them – live in the rail belt," she said. "You have to have friendships ... it takes a long time to gain those friendships and those associations with other legislators across the state."
She's also kept an eye on the slate of candidates who would potentially replace her in the newly minted House District 36 after the Nov. 4 general election, and hopes that a replacement living in Ketchikan or elsewhere will keep Wrangell in mind.
"I hope that whoever comes in will realize that the district includes other areas," she said. "I certainly hope that they'll look at it like I have, that all of them are included in the district."
"That's the thing that makes me feel guilty about retiring," she added. "I feel sure that somebody else will pay attention to these smaller communities, and as people run for office, that's a thing that you make sure that you ask them. I have no idea, but I do worry about that a little bit."