Bob Williams is a first-time runner. And he’s not a born-and-bred politician. He grew up in a blue-collar household in the Mat-Su Valley and graduated from Palmer High School.
He has a degree in Petroleum Engineering from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and is working on a degree in Public Policy.
"I’m a teacher – the Alaska 2009 teacher of the year," says Williams. "I currently teach calculus and geometry at Colony High School, but I’ve also taught in other areas of the Mat-Su. I also [taught] in Nome, Alaska, for three years and I was a statewide mentor for two years in Savoonga, Gambell, Nome, and Mat-Su.”
He says his background in education has influenced his approach to one of his top priorities- increasing voter turnout in the state. The Lieutenant Governor oversees the Division of Elections. And Williams says, Alaska needs more participation at the polls.
“We have very low rates of voting in Alaska," says Williams. "I started having school-wide math assemblies to increase enthusiasm for mathematics. And I’ve more than doubled the number of students at Colony High taking Calculus. And I’ve had students tell me, I’ve saw when you brought attention to the calculus students one by one, calling them out like they were sports heroes, [they] said, when I’m in ninth grade, that’s going to be me. And I think it’s the same thing, I’m going to draw attention and really increase enthusiasm for voting.”
Williams says he would particularly like to see the numbers go up in rural Alaska. Part of that is ensuring people have access to the polls even in remote areas. For that reason, he says he supports vote-by-mail initiatives.
“We have a few things to work out in Alaska to make sure we have equity and there’s access for everyone and that when they go in to vote, they feel welcomed and respected also,” says Williams.
On the ballot this fall is Proposition 1, or the oil tax cuts veto referendum. It’s been one of the hottest and most contentious topics this election season.
“I am voting yes on Prop 1," says Williams. "Like Senator Burt Stedman, a Republican from Sitka, [I think] SB21 went way too far the other way. So we need something that’s balanced.”
Williams says he has a history with the oil and gas industry. Aside from his degree, he worked as a roustabout in Nikiski on the Kenai Peninsula for two years.
“We’ve seen the cost of producing a barrel of oil double over the last few years," says Williams. "And we really don’t have a clear picture as to why. So we need a lot more transparency. Remember, the revenue the state gets is based on profits from oil. So, when you have the cost doubling, you need a lot more information.”
Other hot-button issues he says he’s invested in are fishing and logging. Williams says he doesn’t have a fishing background, but has been meeting with people in the industry to learn about their trade.
He grew up in a logging family. His father moved to Alaska in 1949 to start a one-man sawmill outside of Palmer. His mother came to Alaska in the 1950s as a nurse at Providence Hospital.
With regard to health care, Williams says the way the government in Alaska approaches it needs to change.
“I think one of the worst decisions our current governor made was when he decided not to expand Medicaid," says Williams. "There was kind of a no-brainer. You bring in a billion dollars to the state of Alaska, you bring in 4,000 jobs, you improve the quality of life of more than 40,000 Alaskans.”
Williams says if elected, he hopes to bridge policy gaps between rural and urban Alaskans. He says he also takes a bi-partisan approach to politics.
“The thing I look at is, when you’re looking at a policy decision, I think we’re at a really good place if we’re not thinking Republican or Democrat," says Williams. "But we’re just thinking what’s best overall for all Alaskans. And then you move in that direction.”
Williams will be running for the Lieutenant Governor seat against Hollis French of Anchorage for a spot on the democratic ticket in the final elections to be held November fourth.