By Jenny Neyman
Six candidates are vying for three seats on the Homer Electric Association Board of Directors. Ballots were mailed to HEA members March 30 and are due back by May 2. Members may also vote by attending the annual meeting at 6 p.m. May 3 at Homer High School.
Candidates were asked the following 10 questions. Their responses are below.
1. Tell us a little about yourself.
2. Why are you running?
3. What are your top three priorities for HEA that you would like to advance by being on the board?
4. What do you think of the proposed Grant Lake hydroelectric project near Moose Pass?
5. What do you think of the rate-restructuring plan that went into effect in January?
6. What do you think the future of power generation for the peninsula should be, and how should we get there?
7. Name two things you think HEA does well?
8. Name two things you think could be changed or improved?
9. Why do you think you’re the best candidate for the position?
10. Is there anything else you would like members/voters to know about you?
District 1 — Kenai, Nikiski and parts of Soldotna area
David Thomas, Kenai
1. David Thomas, 50, has lived in Kenai since 1998 and is a civil engineer, designing the cleanup of contaminated soil and groundwater sites. He served on the HEA board from 2008 to 2011.
2. Thomas ran for the board previously because he was concerned about two big questions then before HEA, one being whether or not to pursue coal power from the Healy plant.
“I felt that the economic risks were so significant that, in my mind, it didn’t matter which side of the spectrum you were from, it wasn’t a particularly safe bet,” he said. “… And it’s still not running. Seventeen years old and not getting any newer.”
The other was how efficiently to burn natural gas. The cheapest way was with a single-cycle turbine.
“You basically pry the jet engine off of a plane, burn natural gas and hot exhaust spews out the other end. That’s what we’ve been doing in Nikiski since HEA stopped selling steam to Agrium when Agrium ceased operations,” Thomas said. “If you need to make a certain amount of power for the next one or two or three years, that’s the cheapest way to do it because you’re buying less equipment. You’ll burn more fuel but you’ll buy less equipment.”
Adding a steam turbine, which the board decided to do through the Independent Light project, creates additional power from the turbine — 45 percent more, without burning any more fuel. But adding that technology took investment and a longer view of cost-effectiveness.
“You’ve bought more equipment and so that’s materials and labor and construction costs to install, so you’re going to have a bigger loan. But forever after you will use less fuel,” he said. “… I don’t believe that fuel costs will go down in our future. I wanted us to have the most efficient equipment that we could reasonably afford because I think that makes the area more livable with affordable power, it makes for more job opportunities if businesses have more affordable power, and the less fuel we burn, the more stable our rates are. The loan is fixed, fuel can fluctuate wildly.”
With those two large decisions settled, Thomas now wants to focus on some “medium-sized” decisions, and advocate for HEA management that looks to the future, he said.
“‘Low rates, low rates,’ Well, OK, that’s a nice sound byte. To vote for charging everyone a dollar less this month, sure, that’d be popular, but that could mean that in five or 10 years everyone is paying another $5 a month because you couldn’t afford the maintenance or you didn’t buy the most efficient equipment. There’s this balance between collecting the right amount of money and no more. If your only goal is lower rates, you can get there, but it’s not pretty once you spend down the equity and all the options are gone,” he said.
3. Thomas’ priorities would be further moving toward usage of more utility-scale renewable energy sources, improving transparency of HEA board operations, and increased member education and choice.
“Let our members decide — if they want more renewables at their house, great; if they need a different payment schedule, great. Not the million-dollar decisions, but with the policy and procedures decision, I think about, ‘Does this give a member more choices or fewer choices?’ Then it becomes easy to decide — more choices for more members is better,” he said.
4. Thomas would want to review the increasing costs of the Grant Lake project before endorsing or opposing it. But, generally, he said he’d like HEA to be a little ahead of the curve in investing in hydroelectric power.
“Fuel costs go up, materials costs go up, labor costs go up — we all know that. So most sources of power will cost you more in the future. Hydro is very expensive to build but it’s very flat from there on into the future, so I feel the nature of the beast is you don’t wait until, ‘Oh, it would have been cheaper to build the dam last year, let’s build it next year.’ Someone who was a little cleverer would have built it 10 years ago. I’d like to be the group with the permit to be ready to build,” Thomas said.
5. Thomas said he understands the need for rate restructuring, but doesn’t think it was presented clearly enough to members.
“Simply having the option to turn on your lights costs money — which sounds strange, but all the poles and wires and turbines are there whether you turn on the light or not — and how do members share that cost? Do we call it a capacity charge, or generation charge, or minimum energy charge, or do you say, ‘We’ll keep the generation charge really low because people don’t understand it and we don’t want to bother to explain it and we’re going to put it all on energy,’ and that’s what we’ve done,” he said.
Residential customers pay a blended rate, part of which is a $15 (increased from $11) monthly charge to help pay for HEA’s fixed costs of providing power, and a monthly energy charge that includes a minimum amount equal to the cost of 150 kilowatt hours.
Thomas said he liked that the restructuring was a move toward fairer billing in limiting some customers subsidizing the costs of others.
“HEA is not charging exactly what it costs them for energy and exactly what it costs in fixed cost, but in moving toward that there will be more stability in the rates and the budget,” he said. “… Nobody is perfectly attributed their individual costs, but the restructuring was a movement toward more accurately assessing the costs to different members — that concert of the cost causer should be the cost payer, within reason and within a system that is somewhat understandable.”
6. “In the future the system becomes more of a mix, in my mind, and we use the wind and the hydro when it’s available and when it makes the most sense, we burn natural gas more efficiently at other times, and if the state or the feds can put some money into a large hydro, like Susitna, or a substantial tidal installation, then I’d be happy to be on the receiving end of that,” Thomas said.
7. Thomas said he has been encouraged by HEA’s movement toward better electronic communications and technology, such as remote meter reading and more information available on the website. He also is pleased with the more-efficient use of natural gas in the Independent Light project.
8. He is, however, concerned about oversight of that project.
“Where are cost overruns going and who do they fall to? And that I would like to be at the table for and look over and if the contractor needs more money to do something that they agreed to do, I don’t think that should come out of members’ pocket,” he said.
Thomas also wants to see better member education, he said, such as a column in the newspaper and more board-related information in the monthly newsletter.
“I think member education has improved but I think it could be better,” he said.
9. “Being a technical person with financial experience is something that I add to the board that most other candidates don’t, and I would like the board to more closely resemble the membership. I’m not as young as a lot of our members are, but I’m on the young side of the board and I have small children in area schools and that’s a perspective that I think is helpful to have on the board,” he said.
10. “My decisions hinge on, ‘Where do we want to be in 10 years, how do we make this community a better, more livable, affordable place to live and work, and how do we give members the most information and the most choices?’ What’s the best way to get through this winter can get very contentious because it’s more popular to say, ‘Let’s not raise the rates this winter when I’m up for election, let’s wait until next year and maybe we won’t be too far in the hole then.’ But when you’re looking ahead five or 10 years and not fretting what sound byte to say in the next election, I think the decisions become clear and I have always voted that way and I try to make that argument for the rest of the board,” he said.
Jesse Lobdell, Nikiski
1. Jesse Lobdell, 74, of Nikiski, has lived in Alaska since 1957 and on the Kenai Peninsula for 33 years, working primarily as a registered land surveyor. He’s the president of the Nikiski Senior Citizens Inc. Board of Directors and was a volunteer at the Nikiski Fire Department for 20 years, including more than 10 years serving as assistant chief.
2. Outgoing HEA board member Alan Bute suggested to Lobdell that he run. Before that he hadn’t considered it, he said, but got to thinking that he does have experience working on some of HEA’s transmission lines and administrative experience in running his own business and being involved with the seniors board.
“There was a little bit of encouragement, I thought about it and then, when I read (HEA’s newsletter) with all of the projects and for HEA getting away from its contract with Chugach Electric Association to buy wholesale power, the development of their own power (with Independent Light), the suggestions of harnessing the tide in Cook Inlet and wind power, I thought, ‘Gee, I’d like to be part of that,” Lobdell said.
3. Lobdell’s priorities would be to ensure the costs to HEA members are in line with other electric utility payers in the state, such as Chugach and Golden Valley, to increase HEA-owned power generation and to increase public relations with members.
4. “I think hydroelectric all over the country is the number-one source of electric power generation, and I don’t think that Homer Electric can survive without having some ownership of some hydroelectric projects. Without knowing a lot about Grant Lake, I would say, if it’s feasible go for it,” Lobdell said.
5. Lobdell didn’t reference the restructuring plan specifically, but did say that he’s interested in learning more about how rates are figured and in making sure members aren’t being overcharged.
6. “Pretty much all over Alaska we have either diesel or natural gas turbines, and I think that will always, in the foreseeable future, be a part of power generation,” Lobdell said.
Beyond that, he said hydroelectric power has the greatest potential for being a cost-effective power source. He also supports researching the cost-effectiveness of wind and tidal power generation.
“With wind and tide, I think we should research the feasibility of it and the engineering, and if it can be done to compete with the other forms of energy, then go for that, too,” he said.
7. Lobdell lauds HEA’s response to power outages, particularly shown during the windstorms this fall.
“I mean, those crews worked 24 hours a day, so HEA has excellent policies for responding to those problems,” he said.
He also thinks HEA does a good job in a reasonable time frame of responding to requests to extend lines and hook up power to new users.
8. However, Lobdell is concerned that maintenance on existing lines and infrastructure doesn’t always happen as quickly as it should. He also is concerned about spending among board members and wonders about policies requiring that board member expenses be explained and limited.
9. Lobdell’s perspective is that, with age and longtime residence, comes wisdom.
“I’m the oldest (candidate) and I’ve known the people for a long time and the cooperative for a long time,” he said. “… I think I would go in it with a sense of not only having been a part of HEA for a long time, and I feel like that it’s my organization, and the fact that I’ll probably live here the rest of my life. I think I’ve got enough experience to do a good job.”
10. “I know a lot of people and I talk a lot, so I believe anyone that runs for elected or political-type positions should listen to their constituents and make an attempt to serve their needs and problems and requests. So, in other words, I’m open and always willing to discuss,” he said.
District 2 — Soldotna, Sterling and Kasilof
Dave Carey, Soldotna
1. Dave Carey, 61, has lived in the Soldotna area since 1961, is a retired high school teacher and wrestling coach, and has a long resume of public service, including as mayor of Soldotna and the Kenai Peninsula Borough, president of the Friends of the Soldotna Library, president of the Pioneers of Alaska Men’s Kenai Igloo, vice president of the Kenai River Special Management Area board, secretary for the Soldotna VFW Auxiliary, trustee for the Soldotna Elks, and member of the Lions, American Legion, Center for Mediation and Community Dialogue and Bridges. He served on the HEA board from 1988 to 2008, including as board president.
2. Concern over rising rates, particularly in the past three years, prompted Carey to run.
“Line extension rates have gone up, the rates to what would be residential and the business community are up. I see only more increases unless HEA goes to a unified dispatch,” he said.
3. Pursuing unified dispatch — combining forces with the other power co-ops throughout the Railbelt, and particularly if the state adds its power generation into the pool — is one of Carey’s top priorities for being on the board.
“All of those Railbelt cooperatives should have one unified dispatch, rather than all six having our own equipment and personnel to fight over who gets what power that’s available, we have one unified dispatch that provides everyone with the least expensive power when needed,” Carey said. “This has been a point that has been in discussion for decades. I’d like to see us pick up and move with that. … To me, that would be a significant cost savings.”
Reducing rate increases is another priority for Carey, as is making sure the board is serving the needs of HEA members.
“I serve on many, many different groups, as well as church and teaching. I believe anyone on the board has to have contact with as many people as possible. I have held numerous political offices. … I have contacts with all different groups of people and I believe everyone should be listened to, as compared to what often happens, a person just has a narrow group of people they listen to. I particularly believe I’m in a very good position to represent a very large group of people,” he said.
4. Carey opposes the Grant Lake project both financially and on the basis of the ecological impacts it could have, he said, noting that the KRSMA board discussed the potential that the project could heat up water draining into the Kenai River headwaters and damage organisms.
“Initially the funds that were provided to do the research and development were paid for by the state. People said, ‘Well, it’s not our money, so it’s OK.’ I don’t agree with that. However, the HEA board has now authorized $800,000 of HEA money and up to $3 million of HEA members’ money to do the research and development. I believe HEA is too small to be spending millions on research and development. I believe the private sector should be doing that and if it fits, we can use it,” he said.
5. Carey said he sees the need for the rate restructuring. Years ago, in the midst of HEA’s 30-year contract to buy power from Chugach — 72 mw every month whether HEA used it or not — HEA negotiated to provide power to local industry on a narrow profit margin because industrial use would be consistent and provide stability to HEA’s budget.
“They gave us what we call our base rate; they were the constant. So us having industry onboard was very helpful. The difficulty is that Agrium, the gas-to-liquids plant, ConocoPhillips, have greatly reduced the amount of energy (they use) and some have closed, and that’s why we are having to reassign costs, because we do not have that base rate being bought by industry. The idea of the rate restructuring, I understand why they’re doing it. I just want to be sure that everyone is treated fairly,” he said.
6. Carey sees the future of power generation on the peninsula as being a more-evolved version of what is happening currently.
“I very much believe in the generation we are now doing, from steam and also from natural gas. I believe there is a great deal of natural gas that is here on the peninsula that is being developed. I very much like the HEA (Independent Light) concept that we provide everyone power, we are not bound to get everything from Chugach and pay whatever they ask for,” he said.
Another key to the future is negotiating a larger share of the power produced by the Bradley Lake hydroelectric dam in the Kachemak Bay area. That would help ensure the peninsula maintains power even if our connection to the Railbelt were severed during a natural disaster. And in combination with a unified dispatch throughout the Railbelt, it also would mean access to lower-cost power, Carey said.
“Bradley Lake right now is the least-expensive power being produced in the state,” he said.
7. Carey said he thinks HEA does a good job communicating with its members and in responding to outages.
“We benefit from having very well-trained and very knowledgeable employees,” he said.
8. Still, HEA could do better in electronic communications in terms of opening board meetings up to be broadcast live on the Internet, Carey said. Debt is another area needing improvement, considering HEA carries about $212 million in debt with another $300 million in lines of credit, he said.
“I can find nothing stating what level of debt the board excepts to carry for the next five and 10 years. I don’t believe there has been good discussion about debt. Obviously, the debt is going to be paid by those in the future, and I have a problem with not having a clear plan for the expansion or contraction of debt,” he said.
9. With turnover in recent years on the board — only one sitting board member has been on the board more than three years — Carey said his 20 years of experience and historical knowledge of HEA will be very useful in planning and administering the budget and providing oversight of the administration.
“I believe I have the clearest vision of providing oversight, because I’ve been on the board with three different managers,” Carey said. “… I have the history to look at any particular program and compare it to what we’ve done in the past. The other board members — and it isn’t their fault — but they don’t have that history. They’ve only known one manager, and they basically get most of their information from one source — the administration. My information is much more in-depth.”
10. “I absolutely have a history of getting very involved in those things I take on. I would be a very active board member, I would be prepared when I came to meetings, and I would actively participate. I think I’m the type of member that every board needs, and I think I have a very clear history of doing that.”
Ed Oberts, Soldotna
1. Ed Oberts, 49, was born in Soldotna, raised on his father’s homestead in Sterling and has lived here for most his life. He’s a Realtor, has been the president of the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank Board of Directors, and has served the last three years as the District 2 representative on the HEA board.
2. “I’ve wanted to be on the board for years and years. I first ran 21 years ago for the board, I’ve worked in the oil industry, I’ve worked around energy, I’ve just got a lot of insight and I think that makes me a good, effective board member,” Oberts said.
3. Controlling rates is Oberts’ primary goal.
“And I think we’re making good progress through our Independent Light, where we’re going to have a lot more control over our own production and cost of energy,” he said. “And I’ll continue to make the meetings more open and friendly for the membership to attend, and to bring my common-sense, conservative values to the board and continue to make sure that HEA is financially strong.”
4. Oberts is supportive of continuing to investigate the Grant Lake project.
“I think it’s got great potential. Even though it won’t produce a lot of energy it will provide energy without any fuel costs. In addition, especially hydro has the ability to meet our peaking needs and to save substantial expense if we can actually permit and build the Grant Lake project,” he said.
5. Oberts supported the rate restructuring. Overall, it helped simplify rates, though he was not in favor of the minimum energy charge, he said.
“I think it’s just a little too progressive for our area. We have so many people who have multiple meters it’s just a little bit penalizing for people who have a cabin or a second meter,” Oberts said.
6. Enhancing efficiency in power generation currently on the peninsula is key to the immediate future, and HEA is well on its way in that direction, Oberts said. He pointed to the steam turbines at the Nikiski plant that will generate 45 percent more power without using any more natural gas, new gas turbines at the Soldotna plant and plans to increase efficiency at Bradley Lake.
“I’m open to alternative energy, whether it’s tidal or wind, but at the same time right now we have to rely on the combination of hydroelectric generation from Bradley Lake and natural gas-fired turbines,” he said.
7. Oberts is pleased to see advances in HEA communications, including a Facebook page, community meetings, the revamped newsletter and other outreach efforts. He also is enthusiastic about the potential of the Independent Light project.
“I think HEA’s Independent Light is a great change that will bring jobs and, my hope is, more controllable rates in the future,” he said.
8. But more improvement could be made in both areas — further strides to lower, more controllable rates, and even better communications.
“We try — and I stress the try — to communicate well with our membership. … It’s also an area that we need to improve, too. There’s more opportunities to take advantage of more technology,” he said.
9. “I was born and raised here, I’ve got the local experience, I’m a Realtor, I’m always communicating with the public. My last three years gives me a great level of experience and I think I’m the most conservative, common-sense candidate for the position,” he said.
10. Oberts wants members to know that he voted against HEA’s latest rate increase, and voted for the $1.5 million in capital credit retirement that members will soon receive. He counts both as evidence of his fiscal conservatism, “and optimism that revenues will continue to come in well at HEA, which I believe they will.”
District 3 — Soldotna, Sterling and Kasilof
Jim Levine, Homer
1. Jim Levine, 57, is a project manager for a construction company in Homer, where he has lived since 1994. He is the past president of the KBBI Public Radio Board of Directors, served on a committee of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council and has been the District 3 representative on the HEA board for the past three years.
2. His reasons for running for re-election are the same as when he first ran for his seat, Levine said.
“I’m still looking to try to get renewables and conservation a little more established in the co-op, and also continue to try to get more open governance,” he said.
3. Pursuing renewable energy sources, conservation and open governance are, likewise, his priorities on the board. Under renewables, he’s particularly interested in hydrokinetic power — generating electricity from tidal power or water currents.
“That’s essentially why I got on the board in the first place. I researched it years and years ago, I thought it seemed like a pretty good thing and was hoping that HEA could get involved in it. I got on the board and kind of brought it forward and it’s been moving slowly ever since, but at least it’s moving,” he said.
4. “I think it’s still under study. I think, potentially, it could be a good project. We need to wait and see what the study provides before we can tell if it’s a good project or not,” Levine said.
5. Levine supported the rate restructuring plan but, in retrospect, said he’s heard complaints against it that might have been alleviated by better specificity and communication.
“I feel like there’s a backlash to that minimum energy usage. Apparently it would have been more straightforward to just have made it a minimum cost to provide electricity, and then you pay for all your electricity on top of that,” he said.
He said that, overall, the restructure made cost allocations more fair, for instance by eliminating the higher rate charged to Seldovia, and by moving more toward a cost-causer, cost-payer format.
“Small businesses were subsidizing the general membership. Part of rate restructuring was to allow so they weren’t paying quite so much over and above what they should be paying. It’s less confusing, too. There’s less rates, less classes,” Levine said.
6. “I think it should be more renewable energy and conservation, hydro projects and hydrokinetics. And wind and solar, perhaps, although those are less reliable because you can’t tell if the wind is going to blow or if the sun is going to shine. At some point those will be viable, once somebody figures out batteries a little better or some form of storage,” Levine said.
Funds for expansion into renewable energy generation should come from a variety of sources, he said, including HEA financing, grants and state and federal money. In that vein, Levine could see participation in a unified Railbelt utility grid being a positive move if it means access to the benefits of potential large-scale, state-funded projects, such as a Susitna River hydro project. But only if HEA stands to benefit.
“It would be good if we could have a more regional power grid. But, to some extent, we’re kind of far off at the end here, so unless it somehow could be cheaper (for HEA rates) then I’m not sure it would be worth doing because you would lose some local control,” he said.
7. Levine thinks HEA’s Independent Light project is a good one, and he thinks the co-op does a good job of providing and maintaining reliable power and responding to outages. Particularly, HEA has been paying better attention to maintenance of facilities, he said.
“I think past boards have kind of kicked that can down the road. They didn’t want to pay for it so they didn’t do anything and that caused quite a bit of disrepair. We’ve been trying to fix them up, and that’s important to me. We have a lot of infrastructure that’s worth a lot of money. It seems to me like we should maintain it,” Levine said.
8. Two areas that could stand improvement are better expansion into renewable energy sources and open governance, Levine said.
“We’re doing better there, but I think it could even go better still,” he said.
9. “I guess because I’ve done a lot of work on my own private time on looking into renewable energy and conservation and that sort of stuff. I have a background in it and understand it and have a desire to make it go forward. And having been on the board for three years now, I have some experience, as well,” Levine said.
10. “I’m fair and open-minded. I’m very dedicated to this process and I find it interesting and fascinating, and hope that most people think that the job I’ve done so far has been a good one,” he said.
Carl Martinez, Kasilof
1. Carl Martinez, 54, is a drafter and designer with 30 years experience, including in power distribution, such as working on wind and hydroelectric projects in Oregon and Washington. He’s lived in Kasilof since 2006. He has not served on previous boards or commissions.
2. “Because I want to involve myself into the electricity field. I think that I have a lot of experience regarding alternative energy and I would like to bring up the positives and negatives of wind power and alternative energy. And to be part of that process. I want to be part of the future,” Martinez said.
3. Martinez has two priorities. First is to represent members by listening to their issues with HEA’s policies and practices and bring them to the board. Issues he’s already heard about while campaigning include the cost of extending power lines to new users, and concerns about line maintenance in more rural areas.
“And, two, to talk about the future of electricity, if it’s wind, whether it’s tidal. I want to actually discuss this with the board and come up with the most economical way for us to produce electricity,” he said.
4. Martinez said he’d need to study up on the Grant Lake project before commenting on it specifically, but is generally in favor of hydroelectric power.
“Hydro is a proven energy. I do know that they are cost-effective. I could see where we could have more hydro here as long as we’re not going to deplete our salmon here,” he said.
5. Martinez said he’d look further into the rate restructuring plan if elected, and said that if he hears from members that the restructuring is an area of concern, he won’t be afraid to bring the issue up with the board, or any issue that members would like addressed. Especially issues that affect people’s pocketbooks.
“If I get in there I’ll open up the can of worms again if I see something that’s not right. I live out (in a rural area), and I don’t make a whole lot of money, myself. And actually, I need the job for HEA board. So if I’m going to be looking out for people that I know of who don’t have a lot of money, such as they’re on fixed incomes and live out where I do, and look at this 150 minimum (residential users are charged an amount equal to a minimum 150 kilowatt hours usage each month) to just see if it’s a fair deal. Whenever I go in and look at previous practices, I’ll open them up again,” he said.
6. Martinez would like to see more hydroelectric generation on the peninsula in the future, and would like to look into keeping natural gas reserves for peninsula usage, rather than exporting as liquefied natural gas. He’d also like to look further into coal as a power source, but is concerned that the federal administration is making coal use more difficult. Tidal power also shows potential, but he said technology would need to be cost-effective first.
“The last thing we need is to invest money in a great big toy out in the inlet,” he said.
Overall, he recommends a conservative approach to pursuing new technology now — especially wind, which he doesn’t think is cost-effective currently — since he sees greater advances coming in the future.
“I say that we should wait, on windmills and such, because nanotechnology is right around the corner and it’s going to change the structures of everything we’re building, even the towers, the generators and motors. Everything will change in the next 10 to 15 years. We want to keep our minds open to the future so that whenever nanos are actually perfected we could actually bring them to the Kenai instead investing our money in outdated technology that we have to keep, instead of looking to the future for newer technologies that will be cost-effective,” he said.
7. HEA does a good job of maintaining power and responding to outages, Martinez said, and is operating in a cost-effective manner.
“I’d consider my bills being very fair at this point. I think they’re doing a good job of keeping costs down,” he said.
8. Expanding power generation on the peninsula is an area of improvement Martinez would like to see, particularly to the point where HEA produces enough that it could sell additional excess power to Chugach or other electric utilities. He’d also like to see costs to members reduced.
9. “I know electricity from the plug in your house all the way to the generating station,” he said.
10. “I’d just like to get out and talk to people, I chat a lot about what’s going on and I like to talk about what I’ve learned from other people, and have conversations,” Martinez said.