A discussion with gubernatorial candidate Mark Begich

The Kenai Peninsula’s economy has long been dependent on oil and gas. What will you do to boost the economy on the Kenai Peninsula beyond oil and gas?

The economy of the Kenai Peninsula can be much broader. Tourism continues to grow in the region, which I think is a fantastic growth opportunity. I think fisheries, even though we’ve had challenges around our sports fishing community with closures, fisheries continue to be an opportunity for us in the peninsula. I also think to continue to invest in the campus there, because I think there’s a lot of people who continue to need educational opportunities from the university’s campus there, and AVTEC in Seward. The last, which I think is continuing to grow, and why I mention the educational piece is because you have to connect to the next area of growth, and that’s in the health care area. There continues to be a demand for health care services on the peninsula and I have toured multiple facilities. It shows me there’s a lot of potentials for folks to be trained in the region and work in the health care area.

A lot of people on the peninsula are counting on the success of the LNG project — but there is a long way to go before it will start bringing in money. What would you do to make sure this project happens?

You got to keep the regulatory piece of it moving forward and the relationship with the federal government. You have to make sure you have good investors to ensure you can finance the project. That’s a big piece of it. We have to have some market conditions that allow the pricing work, so when we get ready to sell it there’s a market to sell to. I think the governor has to push back on the president regarding the tariffs on China because that’s where some of our steel will come from. Those tariffs would add additional cost. We got to do what we can there to get some tariff relief.

What do you think the future of the PFD is considering Alaska’s deficit and economy?

Putting in the constitution, which I believe it should be, the dividend itself. I was the only candidate that proposed a real sustainable way to get the dividend in the constitution. I think it could be there for generations. If you leave it in the hands of politicians, which it is now under both my opponents’ plans, the likelihood that it will diminish over the next years is pretty high. It’s a big mistake. We need to do everything we can to ensure the dividend is in the constitution at a sustainable level. Just in the last three years, the Kenai Peninsula has lost a million dollars because of the cuts they had to the dividend. I think that is a damaging effect to the peninsula as well as the state. I want to make sure it’s in the constitution.

Alaska has been hit hard by the ongoing opioid crisis. Considering the ongoing debate about the Alaska budget — do you feel there is enough funding to tackle this issue?

I do because we have to make it a priority. If you don’t make it a priority then you’ll never have the funding. It is a priority, and it’s not just opioids, it’s substance abuse. Eighty percent of the people in corrections are affected by addictions and substance abuse. So we have to do everything we can to combat this issue. On top of that, there will be federal money coming down the pipe that we should take advantage of, not only for opioids but also for much broader effects of substance abuse. The combination of state and federal money that’s coming and the local communities working together, we can combat this. If we can push back on this issue it will have a direct impact on lowering crime, because some of the petty crime that’s going on is feeding people’s addictions. We can do everything we can to push that back. You have to make it a priority and put the resources towards it.

There was some discussion that either your or Walker would drop out, consolidating opposition Mike Dunleavy. Did you ever consider dropping out?

I’ve always thought of this race as an important choice for Alaskans. I think the campaign that I’ve put forward is about the future, and what the opportunities are. I think there are clear choices here. You have someone that wants to go back in time, Sen. Dunleavy. You have the governor who wants to kind of stay where we are. I believe there’s an opportunity to move forward in the future and I want to give the choice to people. I’ve been in three-way races before and won. I think people will make a choice based on what they think is the future of Alaska. You don’t need 50 percent to win, you need about 38 percent to win in a three-way race and I believe we can accomplish that.

The Trump administration decision to impose steel tariffs has had an impact on the Port of Alaska in Anchorage, which already needs significant repairs, as well as potential impacts on pipeline construction — what’s your solution to making sure Alaska’s port and pipelines can operate affordably?

When the president does something that’s positive for Alaska, you should thank the president. But, when he’s doing something that’s hurting Alaska, you should speak up. Our current governor has not done that. Sen. Dunleavy has not done that and these steel tariffs do have an impact. They are costing us money. We should team up with other states, especially shipbuilding states on the west coast, as well as down in Mississippi and Wisconsin, which build ships that utilize steel, and we should be figuring out how we can push back on the president to try and get these tariffs released. If we don’t get tariff relief these costs are going to be passed on and make these projects much more expensive.

The criminal justice reform package passed in 2016 has gotten pushback from many people who feel it lets repeat offenders off the hook — what do you think is working with the reform, and what has to happen to make this reform more effective than it has been?

I’m running against two people who both served in Juneau at the time that reform was done. Sen. Dunleavy allowed it to pass out of his committee that he was on and now he claims he is against it. Well, he let it pass without proper review and proper work and the governor signed the bill. SB 91, you have to repeal it because I think it’s caused a lot of stir on what it does or doesn’t do. Now there are some good things there. They have better penalties for people who commit murder. They increased those penalties, which I think is important. I think you have to have a comprehensive approach to crime. We have to be aggressive, fill the positions that are currently funded with the troopers. We have to be much more aggressive on dealing with these hardened drug dealers, and we have to also understand that these first-time offenders may be feeding their addiction, and we do have to deal with it and put them on the right path. I wasn’t in Juneau when 91 passed and now they all have amnesia about what happened.

Alaska’s economy is highly dependent on fossil fuels but is also uniquely susceptible to climate change. A recent UN report has said that the world has a little more than a decade to cut greenhouse gas emissions by half, and by 2050 greenhouse gas emissions would have to reach net zero. What policies will you put in place as governor to tackle this issue — both in mitigating the current environmental effects of climate change and dealing with the economic fallout of a world that that may be shifting from an oil-based economy?

First off we have to accept that climate change is real. This is not some hoax. The science proves we are having some impact. Just look at our fall, it’s pretty late. We’re seeing on the Kenai changing fishery patterns, which are impacting both sports and commercial. There’s also acidification of our waters. We’re seeing spruce bark beetle impact, which again on the peninsula is significant and creates all kinds of other costs and damage to the area. These are real. I know Sen. Dunleavy doesn’t believe it, but it is real. We have to deal with it. We can do a couple things for sure. Continue to change our internal use of fuel. We have a goal right now of 50 percent renewable resource by 2025; we should be aggressive about that because every time we do that we’re having a positive impact on climate change and emissions. The other things we should be doing, since we are ground zero, is we should be the place where everyone comes from around the world to understand what can be done. It can be from warming waters to acidification, to permafrost melt to Arctic melting. We are the natural lab where we can study this and understand it. It means more resources both on the federal end and locally through our university that helps us understand it better so we can manage it. But again, moving to renewable energy for our own consumption would be a huge positive play for us.

A discussion with gubernatorial candidate Mark Begich