Al Gross is an independent looking into a run against incumbent Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan in 2020. Gross visited Ketchikan over the Memorial Day weekend. (KRBD photo by Leila Kheiry)

An independent from Anchorage, with strong Southeast connections, is planning to run against Sen. Dan. Sullivan in 2020.

Al Gross visited Ketchikan over Memorial Day weekend, as part of his listening tour around the state.

Al Gross was born and raised in Juneau, and worked in Alaska’s capital and in Petersburg as an orthopedic surgeon. He also has a degree in public health, and has worked as a commercial fisherman.

With that background, it’s no surprise health care and fishing are two big issues. Let’s start with health care. Gross said he became disillusioned with how health care is practiced in the state, and in the country.

“And then, a couple of years ago, when I saw Dan Sullivan really running away from the health care issue as fast as he could, and clearly not knowing much about it, and in my mind being one of the single biggest issues holding back the economy in Alaska, that got me mad and that’s why I’m here today and I’m exploring running for the U.S. Senate,” he said.  

The cost of prescription medication is one area Gross said needs improvement nationwide. He said the inability to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies has led to unaffordable prices.

And then there’s health insurance.

“Alaska has the highest in the world health-care prices, and that leads to highest in the world health-care insurance premiums, which makes it next to impossible for new people to move to the state, unless they’re moving to the state with the intention of getting Medicaid,” he said. “But if they want to come to Alaska and work, it’s very, very expensive for people to do that. They have options Down South to do it at a much cheaper rate.”

Gross said people who are happy with their health insurance should be able to keep it. But, he said, a lot of people are not happy. Gross said they should have the option of buying into Medicare or another state-run program. At cost.

“So it doesn’t cost anybody else for them to do that,” he said. “But if they were able to buy their own insurance from the government, like Medicare, and get around having a private insurance company in the middle, they’d save a fortune.”

And, he said, that competition would pressure private insurance companies to review and adjust their prices.

“And I’m not proposing a socialized system at all,” he said. “Physicians and hospitals would still be self-employed and not employed by the government. I don’t think we should have socialized medicine in America.”

Now for fishing. Gross said he’s a lifelong fisherman and wants to protect that industry. He said he opposes the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay area.

“I’m very much in favor of keeping our rivers and our oceans clean and healthy for generations to come because of the way of life that we all love participating in up here,” he said.  

Gross said he also advocates for renewable energy development in the state, such as wind, solar and tidal. He said federal grants could assist the state in developing those kinds of projects.

Gross said he believes Sen. Dan Sullivan is out of touch with the working class of the state, and he questions Sullivan’s records on women’s rights.

“He’s opposed to a woman’s right to choose,” Gross said. “He doesn’t stand up for women in many different ways, and I think that’s wrong.”

Gross said he’s been non-partisan for many years. Despite no formal party backing, he rates his chances against the incumbent as good. Gross said he feels he can raise enough money to campaign effectively in the primary.

“It will be my intention to run in the Democratic party as a non-partisan, so that should I win the nomination in the primary, there would just be two of us in the general,” he said. “That would certainly secure my chances for raising even more money.”

Gross has not run for political office previously. That, too, he feels is not an impediment.

“Dan Sullivan had never run for office before he was elected – our current senator – and (President) Donald Trump was never elected for office,” he said. “So I don’t feel that my never having run for office is a disadvantage.”

Gross does have historic political connections. His father, Avrum Gross, was the state Attorney General under Gov. Jay Hammond from 1974 until 1980.  

Gross expects to make an official declaration of his candidacy in July.