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Former legislator Bill Thomas turns attention to '8-year pile' of fishing gear

Jennifer GibbinsThe Cordova Times
Courtesy Brad Hinton

Long-time Cordova representative, Bill Thomas, says he is busy getting his fishing gear back in order after losing a tight race for Alaska House of Representatives this past November. Thomas lost to Sitka Democrat and newcomer Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins by just 32 votes.

"After an eight-year detour, I am getting back to fishing," Thomas told The Cordova Times speaking from his home in Haines in early January. "I am a life-long fisherman. I've still got my permits for gillnetting, halibut, shrimp. And I've got an eight-year pile of gear in the basement that needs to be sorted through."

As a result of redistricting, Thomas ran for House District 34 this fall, a seat that encompasses Sitka, Haines, Angoon, Craig, Metlakatla and several other small communities in Southeast Alaska. An eight-year veteran of the the State House of Representatives, and familiar face in Cordova, Thomas served as chair of the House Finance Committee and sponsored over 90 bills throughout his career. Asked which work he was especially proud of, Thomas easily identified a short list of bills and issues.

"The Pick Click Give bill," said Thomas referring to legislation that makes it possible for Alaskans to designate approved Alaska charities as recipients of up to 100 percent of their Permanent Fund Dividend.

"Renewable energy, we put $750 million into that for Alaskans. Support for hatcheries and making it illegal to text while driving."

Specific to Cordova, Thomas identified funding for hydro power and the Cordova Center.

"Hopefully Cordova's energy costs will go down," said Thomas. "The Cordova Center is another project we worked to put money into to help the town."

Thomas was active on veterans' and Native affairs, most recently sponsoring HB 246 that named 15 bridges, 14 in and around Cordova, after deceased servicemen and Eyak Elder Marie Smith Jones.

Following the November election Thomas took time out to get double knee replacements, which he says are healing well.

"I've been enjoying my time off and I am healing well, a little stiff but making progress. It was a quality of life decision," said Thomas referring to the surgery. Asked if he was keeping his eye on the political arena, Thomas says it's become second nature.

"You can't be involved for eight years and not still be concerned. I just got off the ferry returning from Juneau and I was talking with people on the ferry who said that they don't think Sitka has realized what has happened. The political influence statewide that was lost, the damage that we may see."

Looking to the upcoming year, Thomas says that the key issue will be how the state handles taxation of the oil industry.

"We've got to give up a little to extend the life of the pipeline," said Thomas. "The state's budget is so big now and we need things. People want more funding for schools for example for Base Student Allocation. We've got to make some sacrifice so we can continue to have the cash flow."

Before hopping on the ferry from Juneau to Haines, Thomas was able to spend some time with Alan Austerman of Kodiak who now represents Cordova as part of House District 35.

"Cordova's got Alan Austerman now, he's a good man. We worked well together," said Thomas. "We met and talked several times before I left Juneau the other day and he will do a good job for Cordova."

As Thomas prepares to return to fishing full-time, he is thinking of Cordova.

"Cordova was always a place where I bought boat parts when I was in town. I know all the shops. I'll miss Sobriety Celebration and Copper River Nouveau, but I'll figure out a way to make a trip.

"Tell everyone that I am doing fine and I will miss them, miss the parade of boats up there, but that is the way politics go, and my wife and kids are happy to see more of me."

The article orginally appeared in the Cordova Times, and is reprinted here with permission. You can reach Cordova Times staff with comments and suggestions at cdvtimes(at)thecordovatimes.com