GOP U.S. Senate candidates target issues, each other in Homer debate

Eileen Becker was clear about her reason for organizing Tuesday’s debate between Republican candidates for U.S. Senate, Joe Miller, Dan Sullivan and Mead Treadwell.

“As a staunch Republican, my main objective is to get rid of (U.S. Senator Mark) Begich. I’m up front about that,” said Becker. 

The event was sponsored by Peninsula Communications, a handful of radio stations owned by Becker and her husband David, what Becker described as “probably the most fairly conservative radio stations in maybe the world.”

All three candidates at Tuesday’s debate, held at Land’s End Resort, shared Becker’s goal of defeating Begich.

“What we need to talk about tonight is who has the record for getting results, fighting the federal government’s overreach. … Who has the resources, the organization to beat Mark Begich in the fall and start rolling back the Barack Obama, Harry Reid, Mark Begich agenda,” said Sullivan. “I believe I’m that candidate.”

Sullivan served in the U.S. Marine Corps for 20 years, was Alaska’s attorney general while Sarah Palin was governor and was the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources under Gov. Sean Parnell. In October 2013 he resigned that post after announcing his candidacy for the U.S. Senate.

Treadwell offered a similar reason for running for the seat. 

“The statehood founders … would demand that the land and power come back to the states. Mark Begich has not joined that crusade, but as I have helped lead it in Alaska, I will in Washington, D. C.,” said Treadwell.

Treadwell is currently Alaska’s lieutenant governor and is the former chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission.

Miller took the opportunity to set himself apart from Begich, Sullivan and Treadwell, as well as Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Noting legislation Murkowski has supported and that she and Begich have voted similarly 80 percent of the time, Miller said, “If you’re going out saying Murkowski is good for Alaska, how do you think you’ll beat Begich?”

Miller served in Desert Storm. He won the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat in the 2010 primary, running against incumbent Lisa Murkowski. However, he lost to Murkowski in the general election when she launched a successful write-in campaign. He has served as a state magistrate and acting state district court magistrate, followed by an appointment as U.S. magistrate judge in Fairbanks. 

With radio commentator and real estate broker Chris Story as moderator, Tuesday’s opening comments were followed by questions posed to each of the candidates.


Q: What, as senator, will you do to assure Alaskans benefit from resource development? Specifically what in the first 100 days would you do regarding the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve?

“The reason we’re where we’re at today” is because the country has looked for easy money, according to Miller, who said he who would join a nationwide effort to stand up to the federal government with regard to land ownership.  “ANWR is one of the things we could use political pressure on instead of focusing on easy appropriations,” he said.

Referring to Obama’s recommendation to set ANWR aside as wilderness, Treadwell said he would continue campaigning for opening ANWR to resource development and would take away the presidential pen Obama has threatened to use to “set aside pristine areas of the public lands in Alaska.” 

Sullivan said Alaska is “turning the corner in terms of resource development. Less government, more freedom.” Accusing Begich of “failing miserably” when it comes to ANWR, Sullivan vowed to make it his focus.


Q: What legislation would you author or sign onto that may be in existence that would simplify the tax codes?

Calling the Internal Revenue Service a “fraudulent agency,” Treadwell said “It’s about time all Americans had some role in paying for the cost of government and about time we had the right kind of incentive system to build economic growth in this country,” he said.

An advocate of a “fair tax,” Miller said it would “create an economic boom in this country like none other.” 

Sullivan supports neither new taxes nor raising taxes. He stressed simplifying the tax code, closing existing loopholes and focusing on reducing “the huge regulatory burden we as Alaskans have.”


Q: With the federal debt at $17 trillion and climbing, how likely are you to take this into consideration when responding to constituents? How likely are you to use a red pen on Alaska projects?

Miller said the decrease of federal dollars to the state is a given; the question is where to cut. “What we have to do as a state is focus on those areas that are exceptionally important in the country,” he said, listing the military presence in Alaska as an example.

With twice as much federal government in the state than is needed, Treadwell said his solution is to put federal lands into the hands of Alaskans. 

Sullivan said the only way to get rid of the national debt is to grow the economy, but that hasn’t happened because “we’re regulating every aspect of the economy.” Alaskans are telling him that what is needed is “less regulation, less red tape, more access to sustainable economic opportunities than they want additional government programs,” he said. 


Q: What is the United States doing right and where are we going wrong with respect to climate change?

“Right now the president is trying to lead us into a global agreement that’ll raise energy prices, affect our lifestyle and not change the weather,” said Treadwell, who advocated for good scientific data and the need for human adaptation to changing conditions such as the decrease of ice on the Arctic Ocean and the resulting need for ice breakers and shoreline protection.

Noting there is “no full consensus in the scientific community” with regard to climate change, Sullivan said, “What we’re clearly doing wrong is that we don’t have an administration taking advantage of the energy sector.” Referencing a “giant energy renaissance” in the country, Sullivan said, “Alaska needs to be leading those efforts.” 

Miller criticized the Obama administration’s “subsidizing of green energy that has cost this country.” He also used the question as an opportunity to accuse Treadwell and Sullivan of changing their stance on global warming, drawing a quick response from the candidates.

“You cannot pretend the science does not exist,” said Treadwell.

“I stand by my record very strongly on increasing energy and increasing hydrocarbons,” said Sullivan.


Q: What do you see as a solution to the flaws in the U.S. health care system and would you support full repeal of the Affordable Care Act?

All three candidates said they support a full repeal of the act, commonly called Obamacare.

“This is not some sort of minor issue we should compromise on,” said Miller.

Treadwell noted the federal government plays a role in health care, specifically in research and development.”  

Sullivan said “affordable access to affordable care is a hugely important issue for Alaskans,” noting his role as Alaska’s attorney general in the suit to stop the Affordable Care Act.


Q: As a result of Sept. 11, 2001, many liberties have been set aside for the sake of national security. How can Americans remain both safe and free with you being senator?

“Having security by undermining liberty is no security at all,” said Sullivan. “For me, that’s the key.” He said the focus needs to be “more on the bad guys, not on the good guys. The good guys are us.”

Noting the government’s ability to closely monitor cell phone conversations, Miller said, “It is atrocious that we as a people are sitting back and allowing this to happen. It’s also atrocious that we have people standing on this stage that were part of the surveillance state.” 

That comment drew a fast “that’s not true” response from Sullivan. Referencing his service in the U.S. Marine Corps and with the U.S. State Department, Sullivan said the notion he was part of “some sort of surveillance state is ridiculous. … Was I involved in trying to go after enemies of my country? You better believe it and I still am.”

Treadwell took a strong stand supporting the fourth amendment of the U.S. Constitution, “which basically says the government does not spy on Americans. They have no right to know what your phone calls were. To have a sensor to know who came here tonight. That is none of their business,” he said.


Q: What solutions would you offer to the major dilemmas facing Alaska’s commercial, charter, subsistence, sport fishermen?

Treadwell said he would ensure Alaska had control of its fisheries, good science was used for managing fisheries and that the state would push back against policies attempting to divert resources away from fishery management. 

Sullivan said a reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, continued commitment to the 200-mile limit and the reliance on science are critical. He noted Alaska’s success in questioning political decisions that limit fishing opportunities, such as abuse of the Endangered Species Act. 

Miller said the concern he hears most frequently is the desire for fisheries’ interests to be represented, something he said he would do “if you send me to D.C.”

Q: With regard to fighting in Israel and Gaza, what level of support should the U.S. be showing Israel?

All three candidates spoke in favor of the United States’ support of Israel. 

“Israel is basically the point of the spear with respect to what’s going on in the Middle East today. They are a stalwart ally,” said Miller

“We have to stand up for Israel, help Israel build strong neighbors who have economic reasons to pursue peace rather than the bloodshed, hatred and racial strife we’ve had for a long time,” said Treadwell.

Sullivan said he had “worked on issues at the highest level of our government with regard to economic cooperation, making sure (Israel) was a strong ally.” 


Q: Since the Roe v. Wade decision, approximately 56 million babies have been aborted. Was Roe v. Wade a mistake?

While the three candidates agreed the Supreme Court decision was a mistake, Miller said this is an area where Treadwell and Sullivan hide behind the court decision. “You have to make sure you elect people that are going to be uncompromising and don’t just give us rhetoric,” Miller told the audience.

Both Treadwell and Sullivan rebutted Miller’s accusations, each of them saying they were being misrepresented by Miller. 

“I’m not challenging either of your on your personal views. What this gets down to is whether or not you’re going to take a stand,” said Miller. Referring to halibut that look “fine on the outside and are jelly on the inside,” Miller said, “The fact of it is, what we need today is not people who are going to be mushy.” 


Q: Would you support term limits on a national
basis for senators?

Each of the three candidates said they support term limits.

Q: With regard to the number of unaccompanied
children coming across the U.S. border from Central and South America and the Marine currently in jail in Mexico and unable to get back into the United States, what can we do to be compassionate people and at the same time enforce laws that involve returning children home?

Arguing for securing the nation’s borders, Sullivan said, “The best thing we can do for these children is reunite them with their families.” With regard to the jailed Marine, Sullivan said, “Where is the outrage with regard to what this young man is going through?”

Miller criticized Republican support of amnesty and encouraged the United States to be “a shining city on the hill,” inspiring development within, rather than the exodus from other countries. 

Treadwell blamed loopholes in the law as the reason youngsters are coming across the border. With regard to the jailed Marine, he said it is an issue the United States needed “to get behind very quickly.” 


Stretching a half hour beyond the planned two-hour event, the candidates were given three minutes for closing comments. 

“America cannot afford Mark Begich and neither can Alaska, but, ladies and gentlemen, Mark Begich could win this election,” Treadwell said in his closing comments. “We need bold action. Not letters or lawsuits, but real bold legislation to bring the power home, the land home, the decision-making home.”

Sullivan said campaigning has made him aware that “people are actually losing hope in America and where we’re going. Hopelessness is not an American ideal. We need to turn this around. I believe we can turn this around or I would not be standing here.”

Thanking his strong show of volunteers, Miller said, “We are a group that is not representing Joe Miller. We are representing ‘we, the people.’ That’s why (the volunteers) are here.”

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.