Homer has seen numerous campaign debates for city and state office, but Tuesday marked one of the first times candidates for federal office took the floor.
In a sometimes spirited, three-hour debate, Dimitri Shein and and Alyse Galvin, candidates for the Democratic Party nomination for U.S. Congress, spoke in Homer at a forum sponsored by the District 31 Democrats and Citizens AKtion Network. Shein is a Democrat, while Galvin has no declared party affiliation. Under Democratic Party rules adopted in 2016, a candidate not affiliated with a party can run in Democratic primaries. Whether unaffiliated or Democrat, whoever wins the primary election faces 46-year incumbent Don Young, the probable Republican Party candidate.
At times, both candidates spoke as much about running against Young as they did the real object of a national Democratic Party push to take back the U.S. House: President Donald Trump. Democrats see winning a majority in the House — if not the Senate — as key to blocking the ambitions of Trump.
“Everything that’s happening to this race is exciting to both of us,” Galvin said. People are grateful to her for the chance to volunteer, she said. “They think this is something they can do with their angst. People are really anxious about their future.”
Born in Vladivostok in the former Soviet Union, Shein immigrated to Anchorage at age 12 with his mother and infant sister. Now a naturalized U.S. citizen, in his campaign website biography he describes a rough childhood living in an Anchorage women’s shelter. His mother worked at Walmart while going to the University of Alaska Anchorage. Shein also attended UAA, earning an accounting degree and become a certified public accountant. In his practice he balanced books for tribal governments and traveled through rural Alaska. His wife, Melissa, is a physician, and they have six children, including four adopted girls.
According to her official biography, Galvin’s family came to Alaska during World War II, “a diverse Alaskan family of builders, butchers, bankers, mechanics, misfits, and outlaws,” she writes. Her parents struggled with addictions, and Galvin said she started working at age 8. She left Alaska to get an education and returned with her husband, Pat, an attorney. She has worked as a waitress, health care worker, substitute teacher, and more recently with Best Beginnings, an early childhood education advocacy group. In 2014 she helped lead Great Alaska Schools, a group advocating for better education funding and support.
Moderated by Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member Kelly Cooper, Galvin and Shein each responded to questions and then had a chance at a rebuttal. In the last hour they also fielded written questions from the audience. On most questions they held the same position, though Shein tended to inject humor in his answers, as when he explained why he is pro-choice, like Galvin, when it comes abortion and contraception.
“I have five daughters and a wife,” he said. “If I don’t support a woman’s right to contraception and a legal right to abortion, I will be sleeping outside tonight.”
Galvin’s response was equally firm. She also noted Alaska’s high rate of sexually transmitted infections.
“I will stand up for all women and for all men, to learn about their bodies,” she said. “… Through best practices and what the Centers for Disease Control recommends, we will shore up what’s best for women and men to make decisions about their own bodies.”
The candidates also agreed on these positions:
• Both oppose Trump’s tax reforms, saying they favored larger corporations, and said they would vote to repeal them;
• Both support unions and collective bargaining;
• Both oppose taking donations from corporate political action groups;
• Both support strong gun regulation such as background checks and allowing the CDC to do research in gun violence as a health issue;
• Both support federal legalization of marijuana;
• Both oppose the Pebble Mine;
• Both think Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election should continue, and
• Both support some kind of universal health care coverage.
On the issue of health care, though, Shein has built his campaign around Medicare for all — lowering the Medicare eligibility age to infancy. He called it an “economic message,” saying that providing federally funded health care would give Alaskans and businesses a $2 billion economic boost. Americans should get the same free health care his wife and children, who are Alaska Natives, get, he said.
“We should not accept this failing system where Americans don’t have health care,” he said. “… That’s what I’m running on: the federal government is responsible for health care, point blank.”
Galvin also supports universal health care, but said she would look at “everything on the table.” One idea she favored is what Shein’s family gets: health care as delivered through the Alaska Native Health Consortium.
“We are not accomplishing what health care is about, which is delivering a healing system,” she said.
Shein and Galvin both support renewable energy, but Galvin said she also supports opening up the 1002 or coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration and development, though she criticized the Trump and Republican Congress plan to do so.
“We gave away the farm,” she said. “Sen. Ted Stevens had us getting 90 percent (of oil and gas royalties). When that bill passed, we got 50 percent.”
Galvin said she supports renewable energy, but said oil and gas development also supports the Alaska economy.
“We need jobs,” she said. “Yes, I support science. Yes, I support renewables, but also know we have to go step-by-step and not lose dollars getting our families fed.”
Shein dodged a direct question from Galvin about whether he supported opening the 1002 area of ANWR.
“1002 has been opened,” Shein said. “I don’t need to campaign on it.”
Shein and Galvin also said they both support immigration reform and opposed Trump’s zero tolerance immigration policy that separated some refugee families. Shein cited his own immigration experience.
“As an immigrant myself, I will tell you our immigration system is broken,” Shein said. “What’s happening on our southern border is broken. It’s shameful. … We should not accept the fact we’re separating children from their parents.”
“We have not had a comprehensive immigration policy,” Galvin said. “That is the fault of our leaders, 46 years for Don Young. He had 46 years.”
Shein kept circling back to Medicare for all, saying it’s the issue that can defeat Young.
“What moves the needle is the progressive message,” he said. “… The middle is not a winning factor against Don Young. It never has been. … No one has ever run against Don Young on a single message for Medicare for all.”
On the question of what gives them hope, Shein and Galvin both said meeting Alaskans who support them gives them hope.
“Each day I’m inspired to work harder,” Galvin said. “I come to towns like Homer. I go to Haven House and I come out and a woman says to me, ‘I need you to win.’”
Shein cautioned that hope isn’t enough, though.
“You just hope and don’t do anything, you’ll end up with a place like Russia,” he said. “That’s why I’m running.”
Galvin said she wants to be something Alaska has never seen: its first Congresswoman.
“This is a different kind of election. I am a different kind of candidate,” she said. “I do appreciate what Alaskans care about, what gives them hope, what gives them angst.”
No matter who wins, Galvin and Shein said they would put aside their minor differences and support the other to defeat Young.
Reach Michael Armstrong at firstname.lastname@example.org.