Three candidates running for Alaska governor were in Ketchikan Wednesday for a debate, hosted by the Ketchikan Daily News. The questions asked by moderator Nick Bowman covered statewide concerns and regional issues.
About 250 people crowded into Ketchikan’s Ted Ferry Civic Center to hear what Libertarian Care Clift, Republican incumbent Sean Parnell and independent Bill Walker had to say.
The first question addressed health care, and whether the candidates would expand Medicaid. Clift and Parnell agree that they would not expand Medicaid through a federal incentive program. They argue that while the federal government would pay for that expansion for the first couple of years, it would fall back on the state after that.
Walker has a different argument. He said he would accept expanded Medicaid for as long
as the federal government pays the additional cost.
“If that changes, we’ll revisit it,” he said. “But in the meantime, we’ll be helping thousands and thousands of Alaskans that do not presently have health care. The other issue is it creates approximately 4,000 new health care jobs in Alaska, and it brings down the cost of health care in general.”
The three candidates agreed on the importance of the Alaska Marine Highway System for Southeast Alaska, and that the federal government should allow the state more control over its natural resources, such as timber.
Overall, the debate was civil. Walker did get in one jab at Gov. Parnell when answering a question about reducing Alaska’s assault rates.
“When someone comes to my office as governor and tells me about sexual assault going on in the National Guard, I will do an investigation immediately,” he said. “I will not wait four years.”
Parnell responded during his turn at the question, calling Walker’s statement a “lie.”
“Bill Walker just said that I did nothing in the face of sexual assault victims coming to my office, or me learning about them, is an absolute falsehood,” he said. “I went in, went to my leadership in the National Guard, and investigated it in 2010, in fact multiple times in 2011 and 2012 as well.”
Parnell noted that Sens. Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski also investigated the allegations and found no evidence at the time. Parnell said that when evidence was found, he took action.
The three candidates also addressed the Ketchikan Gateway Borough’s lawsuit against the State of Alaska over education funding, specifically the required local contribution. Parnell said the state has improved education funding recently, but he believes the local communities should continue to participate in funding their schools.
Walker called the lawsuit a bold move, and said he supports the effort. Clift, a former teacher, cited the state Constitution.
“The Alaska Constitution said very clearly that K-12 education will be fully funded. So when I’m governor, that will be the one area of the budget that will not be cut. It will be fully funded,” she said.
During closing statements, the candidates made their strongest arguments for why they are the better choice to lead Alaska. Walker ran previously for governor as a Republican, but decided to run as an independent this time. He said his administration, with Democrat Byron Mallot as lieutenant governor, would be non-partisan.
“With the fiscal crisis that we’re in, with the $7 million a day deficit, that we use of our savings to do what we do, we need a bipartisan administration, not made up of one party or another, just made up of Alaskans across the board,” he said.
Parnell used his closing statement to counter Walker’s call for non-partisan leadership. Parnell said bipartisanship in the Alaska Senate is what led to deficit spending in previous years. With Republicans in charge, he said spending is now under control. Parnell also said he sees a blue-sly future for Alaska, and touts his record as a strong leader for Alaska.
“I have belief in our future, not just because we have the resources but because we have people – people like you to step forward and grasp the opportunities in front of us,” he said. “I think we’re on the right track for growth. I don’t think it’s time to change horses mid-stream.”
Clift said she stands out as a truly unique choice for Alaskans.
“Mr. Parnell is a big-government Republican, and a lot of people view him as a representative of oil companies. Mr. Walker is a big-government ex-Republican, and he represents a lot of unions,” she said. “They’re going to tell you what you want to hear today, and I won’t. The only purpose of government is to protect individual liberty, life and property.”
The three candidates will be on the Nov. 4 general election ballot, along with J.R. Myers of Haines, who is the candidate for the Alaska Constitution Party.
KRBD will broadcast a complete recording of the debate Thursday, Oct. 2, starting at 7 p.m. A recording of the approximately one-hour debate also can be heard at https://www.krbd.org/2014/10/01/governor-debate/