Homer area voters got an earful on Tuesday about how the five candidates for governor of Alaska feel about issues both statewide and closer to home.
The race is more politically varied than usual. Gov. Bill Walker is running for re-election as an Independent, and William Toien of Anchorage is with the Libertarian Party. In the Republican Party, voters have a choice of former Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell or former Senator Mike Dunleavy. Former US Senator Mark Begich is the sole Democratic Party candidate.
Each candidate aired his views Tuesday during a public forum held at Alice’s Champagne Palace. The candidates for lt. governor participated in their own forum afterward. They are Debra Call, Democrat; Lynn Gattis, Edie Grunwald, Sharon Jackson, Kevin Meyer, Gary Stevens and Steve Wright, all Republicans.
Moving forward to address the rest of Alaska’s fiscal deficit was a major question of the evening. Walker spoke to the difficult decisions and cuts he made as governor to that end, including fewer state jobs and the push to use part of the Permanent Fund earnings to help pay for government services.
Other candidates criticized the reduction of the Permanent Fund Dividend. Toien advocated for its full restoration according to the historical formula.
During an interview at the Homer News before the forum, Walker said he’s been having to correct some misconceptions around what happened with the PFD. None of the dividends that Alaska residents didn’t see were spent on the government, he said. They stayed in the fund to help it grow.
When speaking about health care in the state and how to improve it and bring down its cost, both Dunleavy and Treadwell suggested focusing more on block grants from the federal government. Walker cautioned that Alaska needs to be careful when it comes to block grants, though, which are based on per capita population. This means Alaska comes in last, he said.
Begich advocated for changing the way Alaska purchases prescription drugs in order to bring their costs down. He also suggested streamlining the process for students in Alaska to complete nursing and health care programs so they can enter that field more quickly.
When asked about economic development, Dunleavy advocated for more prolific utilization of the state’s resources. Toien called for a rollback on regulations and red tape that make it difficult for businesses to get start and keep going. Several candidates said finding ways to bring the cost of energy in Alaska down will in turn make it less expensive for young businesses to operate.
The Homer Chamber of Commerce also provided questions more focused on local issues, like halibut quotas. Moderator Kelly Cooper, a member of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, asked the candidates whether they would support increased sport and charter representation on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.
Toien and Dunleavy said the answer was simple: yes. Walker spoke to the fact that, of the 11 members of the council, six are from Alaska. Of those six, there is currently one sport/charter representative from Seward. Walker said the Alaska six tend to vote as a block.
Treadwell said he supports balanced bodies, but that there are “more user groups that want seats than there are seats on the council.” Walker echoed this sentiment.
Begich advocated for Alaskans banding together to push back against tariffs recently imposed against Pacific Northwest seafood, including Alaskan fish, by China.
Alaska’s general election takes place Nov. 6.
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