Question

Candidate questionnaires

Candidates for statewide office fielded questions from the Empire.

Candidates in Alaska’s three main races in the Nov. 8 general election were sent questionnaires in early September. The following are unedited responses from the candidates who replied.

U.S. SENATE

Candidates:

Lisa Murkowski (Republican incumbent)

Kelly Tshibaka (Republican challenger): former Alaska Department of Administration commissioner, special assistant for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Inspector General and Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and acting inspector general at the Federal Trade Commission.

Pat Chesbro (Democratic challenger): MatSu School District superintendent, Palmer High School principal and teacher

What is the single biggest issue facing the country? What can be done to address it?

Chesbro: The U.S. is faced with a great number of complex issues, none of which can be solved with a single action nor with a single perspective. Our biggest issue is the win/lose syndrome which has arisen. We have abandoned a collaborative approach to government. Until we can begin to talk to each other, build consensus, and put the needs of the people first, we will continue to grow our list of complex and crippling issues. I find it difficult to blame both parties equally on this, especially when I hear Republican pundits say that it doesn’t matter what their candidates have said or done, just that they win.

Murkowski and Tshibaka: Did not respond.

Should same-sex marriage be codified in law?

Chesbro: After the reversal of Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court, it is vital that other issues once settled by the Court now become officially codified. This includes same sex marriage. People should be able to marry those they love.

Murkowski and Tshibaka: Did not respond.

Did Joe Biden win the 2020 presidential election?

Chesbro: Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election. The ongoing denial of this fact is one source of our inability to address crucial issues in our country.

Murkowski and Tshibaka: Did not respond.

Do you support elimination/modification of the filibuster? Why?

Chesbro: I support elimination of the filibuster. In no other place does it require a 60% majority to pass legislation. This made-up rule in the Senate serves to interfere with the will of the people, especially since the Senate itself is unbalanced in its representation of individuals.

Murkowski and Tshibaka: Did not respond.

Would you support abolishing the electoral college in favor of the popular vote for presidential elections? Why or why not?

Chesbro: We must abandon the electoral college in favor of the popular vote. I believe in one person, one vote. We have the necessary technical expertise to accurately count ballots and report the results.

Murkowski and Tshibaka: Did not respond.

How has the state’s new elections system affected your campaign?

Chesbro: I think ranked choice voting has allowed those persons who may not have had a chance to get on a ballot to show up and be heard. Political parties, which represent fewer voters than those who declare themselves nonpartisan or undeclared, have reduced power in this system. I appreciate that the elected person must garner 50% of the votes in order to win. Further, ranked choice allows Alaskans to vote their values instead of their fears. I think this system helps all Alaskan voters.

Murkowski and Tshibaka: Did not respond.

On average, members of Congress spend more time on fundraising than legislative work. How do you envision maximizing that use of your time in office?

Chesbro: If elected, I will spend my time doing my job, not working to keep my job. I will do the work that those who trusted me expected me to do.

Murkowski and Tshibaka: Did not respond.

What media sources do you consider reliable?

Chesbro: I am a big NPR fan. I also subscribe to The New York Times and the Washington Post as well as the Anchorage Daily News and Alaska Beacon. I also know how to check and verify sources.

Murkowski and Tshibaka: Did not respond.

Name an item in your party’s national platform you disagree with.

Chesbro: The 2020 platform supports forgiving student debt for those who earn $125,000 or less. I disagree with that stance as it is somewhat unfair to those who do not go to college. I think President Biden’s work to forgive $10,000 is fair. I would further urge the federal government to refigure the debt in this way: compute the actual amount the person has paid on their education debt; deduct that amount from the initial amount borrowed; deduct the $10,000 forgiveness; refinance the remainder at a 1-2% interest rate; allow for bankruptcy if necessary.

Murkowski and Tshibaka: Did not respond.

Which is the higher priority: Securing federal funds for Alaska or reducing costs to taxpayers? Explain your reasoning and cite specific examples of funding/cuts you would seek.

Chesbro: Alaska is still a young state with a complex geographic footprint and diverse needs. Other states have had many more years to develop and maintain their infrastructures. We still need federal help in building an infrastructure that aligns with our needs, such as the Alaska Marine Highway. I also believe Alaskans should cooperate in building such infrastructure. It is my responsibility to pay taxes. I want our tax policies to be fair to all.

Murkowski and Tshibaka: Did not respond.

U.S. HOUSE

Candidates:

Mary Peltola (Democratic incumbent): Former state lawmaker, tribal court judge and executive director of the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

Sarah Palin (Republican challenger): Former Alaska governor and vice-presidential nominee.

Nick Begich III (Republican challenger): Business owner, co-chair of Rep. Don Young’s 2020 re-election campaign.

Chris Bye (Libertarian challenger): Alaska fishing guide, retired U.S. Army officer.

What is the single biggest issue facing the country? What can be done to address it?

Peltola: The issue Alaskans are most concerned about is the economy. Our cost of living continues to increase. In the midst of heavy inflation, we must do everything we can to lower prices for consumers and create high paying jobs so that everyone can afford essentials without worrying. On the pricing side, I am a big believer in reviving the enhanced child tax credit, which was responsible for lowering the child poverty rate by over 40%. I also support the recent moves to allow Medicare to negotiate the prices of pharmaceutical drugs to make sure that no one goes bankrupt buying life saving medication. We need to hold corporate price gougers accountable for using inflation as an excuse to jack up prices.

Another way to both reduce inflation and provide high paying jobs is to bring more jobs back to this country from overseas. By reducing our dependence on global supply chains, we can better future proof our economy in times of crisis. A big area we can do that is with our resource industries. This is why I’m proud to have joined our Senators in pushing the White House to greenlight the Willow Project, to create new jobs, and pave the way towards energy independence. Strong union rights are also vital to wage growth and job security for regular Alaskans throughout the state.

Palin, Begich and Bye: Did not respond.

Should same-sex marriage be codified in law?

Peltola: LGBTQ+ Alaskans are valued neighbors, loved ones, and members of our communities, and they deserve to be protected. I believe we must act to codify same-sex marrage and pass the Equality Act to protect every Alaskan’s freedom to marry who they love.

Palin, Begich and Bye: Did not respond.

Did Joe Biden win the 2020 presidential election?

Peltola: Yes.

Palin, Begich and Bye: Did not respond.

Who would you choose to be Speaker of the House?

Peltola: My ideal speaker of the house would be someone who would be an ally in making sure Alaska gets its fair share from Washington, and someone who understands that here in Alaska we care about our freedom to make our own decisions, and not be bound by politicians and bureaucrats from thousands of miles away.

Palin, Begich and Bye: Did not respond.

Would you support abolishing the Electoral College in favor of the popular vote for presidential elections? Why or why not?

Peltola: I understand voters are concerned with our elections system. Right now, we have a real crisis of faith in our democracy. We must prioritize reengaging folks who feel left out of the democratic process and folks who feel their votes don’t matter. We can begin this process by campaigning honestly and focusing on the issues. I’ve attempted to do just that throughout the campaign.

Palin, Begich and Bye: Did not respond.

How has the state’s new elections system affected your campaign?

Peltola: I’ve always been someone who reaches across the aisle, and I am always willing to work with anyone who will help better our state. I had this mentality when I led the Bush Cacus in the State House, and believe in it now as a member of Congress. Under the ranked choice system you have to be willing to talk to everyone in order to win. Luckily for me that’s always been the way I do things, so I haven’t had to change much.

Palin, Begich and Bye: Did not respond.

On average, members of Congress spend more time on fundraising than legislative work. How do you envision maximizing that use of your time in office?

Peltola: My job is to serve the people of Alaska. I’m happy to say that in just 3 weeks I passed my first bill to make sure that Veterans have food security. I will continue to focus my time on delivering for Alaskans, helping constituents across the state, and advocating for our interests in Washington.

Palin, Begich and Bye: Did not respond.

What media sources do you consider reliable?

Peltola: I don’t think any one news source can be completely reliable on its own. I try my best to look at every story from multiple angles, and understand how different folks arrive at their conclusions.

Palin, Begich and Bye: Did not respond.

Name an item in your party’s national platform you disagree with.

Peltola: I think there are many folks in the lower 48 who just don’t understand how important our resource industries are to the Alaskan Way of life. I believe that there is a path towards sustainable development of our natural resources that moves our country towards energy independence, protects the jobs of hard working alaskans, and preserves a clean environment as much as possible. What some of these Washington politicians don’t understand is that despite our resource industries, Alaska is a national leader in renewables; 31% of our power grid comes from renewable energy sources. I have already stood up to my own party on energy issues and will continue to fight for Alaskans and our jobs.

Palin, Begich and Bye: Did not respond.

Which is the higher priority: Securing federal funds for Alaska or reducing costs to taxpayers?

Peltola: I think that this is a false choice. In many cases the purpose of federal funds, especially in a state like ours is to lower costs for taxpayers. I’ll give you an example. The recent federal funds for infrastructure that have come to Alaska are helping us build new roads, bridges, broadband installations, airports, ferries, and energy grids across the state. These projects create middle class jobs, and keep our state connected. Not only that, but they will also make it easier to transport goods, making it cheaper to transport goods especially to our most rural areas, leading to lower costs for everyone. Better infrastructure also makes our state more enticing for jobs, and will allow us to grow our economy. Investing in Alaskans will create more prosperity for everyone and will reduce costs for everyday taxpayers.

Palin, Begich and Bye: Did not respond.

ALASKA GOVERNOR

Candidates:

Mike Dunleavy (Republican incumbent)

Les Gara (Democratic challenger): Former Alaska State House member

Bill Walker (Independent challenger): Former Alaska governor

Charlie Pierce (Republican challenger): Former Kenai mayor

What should the state do to address climate change?

Gara: Meaningful state action to address climate change is crucial and needed. That requires state partnership to build smart renewable energy projects across the state in large and small communities.

We should bring back energy efficiency policies. I’ve supported including home weatherization.

I’ve acted on climate change by writing the state’s rules requiring all state, school, University and court buildings to be built to cost-effective energy efficiency standards. The cleanest energy is the energy you don’t use.

Increase in storm damage as we’ve seen this year in western Alaska means we need things like protective coastal seawalls, and plans to address what may be a growing number of landslides in Southeast.

But, to addressing climate change, like our education, Marine Highway and the other problems this Governor has created, Alaska needs to have revenue again. Governor Dunleavy has made sure we don’t have the funds needed to build a vibrant state, with real opportunity. One year of revenue because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – and the high oil prices it’s created – isn’t a sustainable or moral plan.

Governor Dunleavy has shortchanged Alaskans by giving away $1.2 billion in oil company subsidies, something he voted for as a legislator and that I voted against. I’d end those unjustified subsidies so we can afford to build a future, instead of the current policy of making people fight each other over schools, or a PFD, or a Marine Highway, or needed construction and maintenance and renewable energy projects.

We should do all of those things instead of pleading false poverty.

Pierce: The state government cannot control the weather. Government can respond to the results of the weather and implement policies and procedures that reduce risk. One example would be to modernize building and permitting standards, and not building (or rebuilding) in areas that have become susceptible to flooding.

Dunleavy and Walker: Did not respond.

What do you see as the state’s biggest transportation deficiencies and how would you resolve them?

Gara: As a legislator I always fought for a vibrant, funded Marine Highway. In coastal communities, people deserve affordable, regularly scheduled ferry service to keep down the cost of travel, and the cost of personal, business, grocery and construction supplies.

In his first year Governor Dunleavy set the tone by pushing an irresponsible 75% Marine Highway cut, and we’ve suffered ever since.

With revenue we can restore the Marine Highway, and leverage federal infrastructure funds to build new ferries to modernize an aging fleet that’s become expensive to repair. That fleet should be built to specs that allow us to maintain it locally to save money and create jobs.

A fiscal plan will allow us to help communities maintain roads as well.

Pierce: We need access to our state. We need new roads to link communities, a rail system that connects Alaska to the Lower 48, and modernized ports. My administration’s long term capital budgets will consider these needs.

Dunleavy and Walker: Did not respond.

How would you rate the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and to what extent is state action needed going forward?

Gara: We should continue the policy of allowing local communities to address different local conditions, and I don’t see a need to impose state mandates. But the Governor failed by inaction when he should have travelled to local communities, at the height of the COVID outbreaks, with respected local leaders and local medical experts. He should have worked with these trusted local leaders to explain what works to keep families healthy, so people can make voluntary, informed decisions. Instead, he created unnecessary suspicion about effective vaccines and voluntary personal action that can save lives. He should have united people and instead divided them too often. Thankfully Dr. Anne Zink gave strong advice with a strong presence. The Governor’s political ploy to invite unvaccinated Trooper applicants from Outside, at the height of a more recent COVID wave, was irresponsible and ineffective. We don’t need short-time Outside police and Troopers who then leave Alaska after we pay to train them That’s what happens now because we don’t offer competitive Trooper, police and teacher pay or benefits.

We can build a strong Alaskan law enforcement presence with fair law enforcement pay, and by returning to a cost-effective state pension that will keep people here. We aren’t competitive when every other state offers that benefit, and we don’t. Doing this will help us retain strong teachers, police, and other needed workers in this state.

I’m the only candidate in this race who’s filed legislation, when in office, to return us to a pension plan.

Pierce: I certainly appreciated that our state government was not as heavy-handed as others. I also recognize that some federal agencies and large corporations were extremely coercive and many of our Alaska residents suffered needlessly. On the whole, I believe we could have done better, relying more on proven science and pushing back on fear. As Mayor of the Kenai Peninsula, I fought to keep our economy open, refused to implement vaccine mandates, pushed for access to alternative early treatments, and defended people’s medical freedom to choose what was best for them, in their situation. As governor, I’d do the same.

Dunleavy and Walker: Did not respond.

Should changes be made to the way the state appoints judges?

Gara: People are entitled to judges who are fair and qualified, not judges who are biased and partisan. Right now, under our Constitution, a Governor doesn’t get to pick their best friend, or a partisan, to be a judge. Instead, we have a merit based Judicial Council that lets citizens review applicants, and that sends only the most qualified ones to the Governor to choose from.

That keeps politics out of the judiciary, in contrast to the federal system that allows presidents to pick the most partisan party loyalists for judicial positions. Our constitutional system has been a model for other states where judges are picked for partisan reasons, and it should not be changed.

As the only pro-choice candidate in this race, I am also the only candidate who has said I will ask my judicial nominees if they will follow Alaska’s pro-choice case precedent. A Governor who appoints judges who will not honor our pro-choice caselaw threatens our right to choose in Alaska.

Like under the federal constitution, our right to choose in Alaska is based on caselaw that interprets our privacy rights in our constitution. Anti-choice U.S. Supreme Court Justices took away your federal rights by ruling the federal constitutional right to privacy no longer protects abortion rights. That’s why judicial appointments matter, and why the Governor you choose matters.

Pierce: Yes, and I look forward to a constitutional convention to hopefully address this issue. Currently the process is too influenced by popularity and politics. I feel that all qualified applicants should be brought before the governor to choose from, and not just the two or three that the Judicial Council selects. That is my opinion, but Alaskans deserve the opportunity to evaluate and improve the process through their elected delegates during a constitutional convention.

Dunleavy and Walker: Did not respond.

So-called “capital creep” is a major concern for Juneau, is it something you feel needs to be slowed down or reversed? If so, how would you combat it? If it is not a concern, why?

Gara: Juneau is the Capital City, and should be treated that way. I don’t believe in the constant outflow of workers from Juneau to other towns. There is an efficiency in keeping a stable, trained Capital City workforce in Juneau, and doing otherwise harms the southeast economy.

Pierce: I can see how jobs leaving Juneau would be concerning for Juneau residents; however, when considering the cost of delivering services, these decisions must be evaluated. COVID events have taught us that many jobs can be performed from anywhere. The cost of doing business would be a big consideration for me.

Dunleavy and Walker: Did not respond.

In light of multiple data breaches, how could the state improve its cyber security?

Gara: I co-sponsored privacy legislation with Sen. John Coghill requiring consumers to be told, immediately, when there is a data breach that affects them. I’d work with the Department of Administration, and other departments, to make sure we have the technology and staff to prevent data breaches.

Pierce: I would contract with a major IT protection services provider. There is no such thing as zero risk, but state residents need to know their personal information is as secure as it can be. As with any warfare, digital warfare is continually evolving. Our cyber security must remain ahead of the threat.

Dunleavy and Walker: Did not respond.

In the past half-decade, there have been multiple resignations among top state officials following revelations of inappropriate conduct involving women and girls. What would you do to change a workplace culture that’s apparently enabled misconduct?

Gara: I’d hire more highly exceptionally qualified women in positions of influence. Unlike Governor Dunleavy, I would not hide from the press if an official has engaged in sexual harassment. As a legislator I called for the resignation of two of my own party members who had engaged in sexual harassment.

This Governor has still refused to answer press and citizen questions on why he didn’t fire Attorney General Clarkson once the Governor knew Clarkson was sexually harassing a young woman. That employee sought help repeatedly, was told not to talk about her harassment, and was harassed both through the sending of over 500 sexual, harassing and unwelcome text messages. She deserved leadership from those who should have immediately protected her, not a cover-up.

Mr. Clarkson was only fired months later, after the press found out about and reported on the harassment. Years later, Governor Dunleavy still refuses to answer when he learned about this harassment, and why he didn’t fire Mr. Clarkson until after the press found out about it.

People should feel safe and respected in their jobs, and I’d work to make sure we have a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment, and a policy for real training so people understand their rights and rules requiring a safe workplace.

Pierce: This is a subject that requires annual policy training and reviews with all employees. Under my administration, a zero-tolerance policy would be a must. Employers must provide safe work environments for all.

Dunleavy and Walker: Did not respond.

How has the state’s new elections system affected your campaign?

Gara: I believe in running on policies that will create opportunity and dignity for people, and a stronger Alaska. The new system hasn’t changed my overall strategy. Tell the truth. Research problems. Offer real solutions. I don’t know that it has changed my campaign, other than I have tried to educate people on how the new system works so they vote.

For 14 months I’ve tried to educate people on this new system, and have tried to educate people that I am ranking Bill Walker as my second choice. In the new ranked choice voting system, it is important to list a second choice when there’s a third or fourth candidate you don’t want to see elected.

About a month ago Walker likewise started making public his recommendation that his supporters rank me and Jessica second in November. We have differences, but both of us believe in a much brighter future than what the current Governor has created. I do wish he started making his preference public earlier, to help educate voters that ranking is important in this new election system. I think all candidate should do that, to help educate voters on this new system.

Pierce: It has been challenging to meet the requirements, certainly. A perfect example is the governor and lieutenant governor being united on the same ticket, and not being allowed to have two separate fund-raising accounts. The upside is that the finances keep us communicating well, almost like a marriage!

Dunleavy and Walker: Did not respond.

What media sources do you consider reliable?

Gara: I’m often disappointed in the lack of strong state issue coverage in the press, and understand that’s in part a product of staff cutbacks. The public should receive the information they need to be informed about policymakers and candidates, and they often are not.

The Sitka Sentinel is an example of an incredibly strong small-town newspaper. KTOO has remained vibrant, and some of our newspapers and media outlets do better than others on focusing on the issues voters are entitled to receive information on. Small community public radio stations have done a very good job reporting on state issues. That’s despite shortsighted state budget cuts by this Governor and others who don’t understand the value of public radio reporting.

Pierce: News Max

Dunleavy and Walker: Did not respond.

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