The three leading candidates for Alaska governor were in Soldotna Wednesday. Independent incumbent Bill Walker, Republican Mike Dunleavy and Democrat Mark Begich are all running campaigns focused on the state’s permanent fund.
Three letters are driving this year’s campaign for governor: PFD. How much of the permanent fund dividend should Alaskans get and how much should it be relied on to fund state government? Of course the candidates spent some time on that issue during Wednesday’s Chamber of Commerce luncheon, but closer to home, they also talked about their different approaches to fishing and environmental issues around Cook Inlet and the state, particularly the Stand for Salmon ballot initiative. Mark Begich is the only candidate who plans to vote yes.
“Forty-five thousand Alaskans signed an initiative. Why did they sign that initiative? Because the legislative body and the governor did not do the job. This is on the ballot because of a failed system. When I was mayor (of Anchorage) for six years, we never had an initiative. Why? Because you sit down with both sides, solve these problems and move forward. This, if it passes, our job as as governor is to make sure it does not interfere with and harm large developments over time.”
Governor Walker will be voting no, but he sees another path beyond the ballot initiative, that puts more emphasis on local input when it comes to big projects like the proposed Pebble Mine, which he is against, and which ballot measure one would likely prevent from happening.
“Some years ago we had something called Coastal Zone Management. It allowed local communities, local stakeholders, to be involved in the process. Not a veto process, but be involved at the earliest stage. I think we need to make sure we have that opportunity to have input at the embryonic stage of a project and not wake up to a headline that there’s going to be a project. I’m a No on (ballot measure one) because I want to make sure that Alaska can develop our resources responsibly as we have done in the past and make sure we can have a good strong economy. This is not the time to be throwing one more layer of uncertainty on top of our regulatory process.”
Dunleavy is also a no on one. Like others in the vote no camp, he says the measure will cripple economic development, but didn’t give any specific examples of projects that would be derailed.
“I’m a big supporter of salmon but I’m also a big supporter of people, economic opportunity, jobs, creating wealth, creating revenue for the state of Alaska. I think this goes too far. I think it’s the wrong approach at the wrong time for the state of Alaska, especially with the economy in the state it’s in. This will impact municipalities, this will impact current projects, future projects. This really could put an end to any economic hope for Alaska."
The candidates covered a wide range of other topics, from endangered species in Cook Inlet to the best ways to address substance abuse and homelessness in the state.
Full audio from the candidate forum: