Former Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor and gubernatorial hopeful Charlie Pierce fielded questions about his platform Thursday, Oct. 6, during a candidate forum hosted by the Homer Chamber of Commerce at Land’s End Resort in Homer.
The forum, which lasted for about an hour and a half, also featured Democratic candidate Les Gara, a former state lawmaker, and nonpartisan candidate Bill Walker, a former Alaska governor. The two brought their gubernatorial bids to the central peninsula last month for a forum hosted by the Kenai and Soldotna chambers of commerce.
Pierce’s appearance at Thursday’s forum was the second in which he has participated since announcing his bid for governor in January and came a week after Pierce’s official last day as mayor of the Kenai Peninsula Borough. The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly said in a statement last month that Pierce was asked to consider resigning as a way to resolve an allegation of harassment made against him this summer. Pierce was not asked Thursday about the circumstances surrounding his resignation.
The former borough mayor offered snappy stances on some of the state’s top issues throughout the forum. He said he supports a constitutional convention and statewide natural resource development, but doesn’t support ranked choice voting, which he said has created a lot of confusion among voters.
That differed from the positions of Gara and Walker, who have said Alaskans should give the system a try considering ranked choice voting was a change approved by voters.
Pierce described himself as pro-resource development and said Alaska is good at “killing projects” on an “environmental basis.” He suggested resource developers partner with environmental groups to find common ground and said, for example, that advocates of the controversial Pebble Mine project “go somewhere else in Alaska.”
Walker said fisheries policies need to be based in science rather than politics, while Gara bashed Dunleavy for the almost-closure of Cook Inlet’s federal waters to commercial salmon fishing and called the state task force on bycatch “nonbinding.”
Pierce further called upon state leaders to take more concrete action in response to trawler bycatch and declining fisheries, using Kodiak crab and Kenai River chinook salmon as examples.
“We need leaders that are going to step up and make decisions,” Pierce said. “(Do) we need biologists? Then hire the biologists and get enough biologists in there that can make some smart decisions and start managing this fishery. I worry that it’s too late. I worry for the king fishery in the Kenai.”
Pierce multiple times during Thursday’s forum condemned inefficiencies in the Alaska Legislature and what he called a “lack of urgency” among Alaska leaders to solve state problems.
“It bothers me to no end: there’s no urgency from our leaders,” Pierce said. “They worry more about their party affiliation than … about the results they produce. Every day, they go down there and they spend 90, 120 days (and) they can’t even get out of there on time. Everybody’s worried about paying them per diem and they’re not worried about the results. Alaskans are bleeding. We need a leader to lead this state and turn this place around. We need some leadership.”
Pierce pointed to education as an area where Alaska needs to improve, particularly when it comes to literacy rates among primary school students. U.S. News & World Report ranks Alaska’s education system 49th nationwide. Results from 2021 Performance Evaluation of Alaska’s Schools, or PEAKS, assessments show that Kenai Peninsula students tend to have higher scores than statewide averages, but that all grade levels struggle to hit 50% proficiency in math and reading.
When asked whether they would support a statewide income tax in lieu of tapping into Alaska Permanent Fund dividend revenue, candidates had different takes.
Gara said he doesn’t think Alaska needs an income tax or a sales tax, but should cut tax credits for oil companies. Walker said he doesn’t think the dividend should be used to balance the state budget, and that any tax proposals happen at the legislative level. Pierce said he doesn’t support taxation, which he called “regressive,” and said that talking about taxation shows that Alaska “is going in the tank.”
Candidates had similarly diverging opinions about abortion, which is a newly state-level issue following the overturning of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Walker said that the Alaska Constitution protects a woman’s right to choose and as governor he would take oath to defend the Constitution. Gara has billed himself as the only pro-choice candidate running for governor and said it is not his decision what a woman should do with her body. Pierce called for more statewide adoption programs that could be used in the case of unwanted pregnancies.
Ultimately, Pierce doubled down on his “Results not Rhetoric” slogan.
“I really don’t care who’s elected,” Pierce said. “I want to see some results.”
The Resource Development Council for Alaska, Inc. announced Friday that Pierce would be attending their Governor’s Debate on Resource Development, which will be held on Oct. 11 at the Egan Center in Anchorage. Confirmed attendees also include Gara, Walker and Dunleavy.
Thursday’s gubernatorial debate can be streamed on KBBI’s website at kbbi.org.
Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at email@example.com.