Democratic-ballot candidates for U.S. House Alyse Galvin, Christopher Cumings and Dimitri Shein listen to an audience member ask a question during Friday’s debate in Ketchikan. (KRBD photo by Leila Kheiry)

Three Democratic primary-ballot candidates for U.S. House were in Ketchikan for the annual Blueberry Arts Festival. In addition to meeting and greeting the public during festival events, they debated issues Friday during a forum hosted by local House District 36 Democrats.

Alyse Galvin, Christopher Cumings and Dimitri Shein each hopes to challenge Rep. Don Young for U.S. House this November.

First, though, they need to convince Democratic primary voters that they’re the best choice to defeat Young, a Republican who has held his seat since 1973.

Moderator Tom Schulz and other local Democrats came up with the questions for the Friday-evening debate, which touched on topics important to Alaska in general, and specifically to Southeast. But first, they introduced themselves.

Galvin is from Anchorage, and is unaffiliated with any party. She said she’s a lifelong advocate for education. She helped found a group called Great Alaska Schools, which lobbied state lawmakers to maintain funding for public education.

“I fought every day for kids,” she said. “And I will bring this same energy to the campaign. The same things that led to success at Great Alaska Schools: Strong organization of people, clear messaging on issues critical to them, and that’s how we’re going to win in November.”

Also unaffiliated, Cumings lives in Ketchikan. Like Galvin and Shein, Cumings is new to campaigning. A big part of his campaign is raising awareness of addiction and mental illness. Cumings is a recovering addict, and said his family is relying on the government’s “safety net” to make it through a difficult time.

From left, Alyse Galvin of Anchorage, Christopher Cumings of Ketchikan and Dimitri Shein of Anchorage debate Friday in Ketchikan. Each seeks the Democratic nomination for U.S. House. (KRBD photo by Leila Kheiry)

“But I’m also someone who has fallen hard and picked himself back up, so I guess you could say I’m a little bit resilient,” he said. “I’m someone with the courage to stand up for what I believe in, even though I face really long odds. I’m self-aware enough to know I don’t have all the answers, I need help sometimes and, most importantly, occasionally I’m even wrong.”

Shein is an Anchorage resident and is running as a Democrat. He immigrated to the United States from Russia when he was 12 years old. Shein said his family fell on hard times and had to rely on social assistance for a time until his mother was able to find stable employment. He’s a former CPA who worked with tribal governments, and later founded his own company.

“I cherish American values. The values of free press, free speech, an independent judiciary, the notion that none of us are above the law,” he said. “And I feel that these American values and pillars are under attack right now.”

Health care was the first question. Schulz asked how the candidates planned to address concerns with the Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare.

Cumings and Shein both advocate single-payer health care for all. Cumings said the current private insurance system is failing people.

“I don’t feel that price should be an issue when you go to the doctor,” Cumings said. “I don’t feel that anybody should be making a profit off of anybody else’s misery.”

Shein said the government needs to reaffirm that health care is a human right.

“Even the Koch brothers now agree that it is more cost-effective for us to implement single-payer Medicare for all,” he said. “It is the right thing to do financially – as an accountant I will tell you it is the right thing to do financially. It’s the right thing to do morally, and it’s the right thing to do to win elections.”

Galvin agreed that something needs to be done. She advocated a variety of solutions, including opening exchanges across state lines to increase competition and lower costs in Alaska.

“Let’s fight Big Pharma right now and support legislation and policies to lower the cost of prescription drugs right now,” she said. “Let’s increase Medicare reimbursement rates so they cover the cost of care right now. And let’s make it easier for Alaskans to find doctors who accept Medicare.”

Schulz also asked about economic development and resource extraction. Cumings said he supports an Alaska exemption from the national Roadless Rule, to provide access, although he supports a transition to young-growth harvest.

Galvin said she supports maintaining the Roadless Rule for Alaska and encouraging renewable-energy projects while still allowing a multi-use forest.

Shein said a challenger to Young needs to provide an alternative economic message, and his is health care for all. Shein said that will bring significant revenue into the state and free up money to pay for other projects.

The candidates also talked about securing the nation’s voting system, internet safety, tariffs, the Alaska Marine Highway System, bypass mail subsidies, the U.S. Coast Guard, Arctic development, climate change science, education costs and mining.

Here is a recording of the entire debate:

And here is the official list of all candidates in the Aug. 21 primary election.