Courtesy photo / Les Gara 
Les Gara, who represented Anchorage in the Alaska House of Representatives from 2003-2018, is running as a Democrat to unseat Gov. Mike Dunleavy in the 2022 general election. He told the Empire in an interview he wanted to ensure opportunities were available in Alaska in the future.

Courtesy photo / Les Gara Les Gara, who represented Anchorage in the Alaska House of Representatives from 2003-2018, is running as a Democrat to unseat Gov. Mike Dunleavy in the 2022 general election. He told the Empire in an interview he wanted to ensure opportunities were available in Alaska in the future.

Looking to unseat Dunleavy, Les Gara says Alaska doesn’t need austerity

Former Anchorage House rep running for governor is coming to Juneau.

Former state Rep. Les Gara, an Anchorage Democrat from 2003-2018, says as governor he wants to make an Alaska where people see a future for themselves.

“My core value is that people deserve an opportunity to succeed in life, I want to make sure everybody else has a chance to succeed,” Gara said Wednesday in a phone interview with the Empire. “I want a future that Alaskans believe in.”

Gara will be in Juneau this weekend generating support for his campaign. On Saturday, he’ll be speaking at the Juneau Women’s March Rally for Abortion Justice being held in response to restrictive abortion law recently passed in Texas.

Gara announced in August he was running as a Democrat, though he said he’d been thinking about running since Gov. Mike Dunleavy made massive reductions to the state’s budget. In 2019, Dunleavy drastically reduced spending for certain sectors of the state with over $400 million in vetoes — some of which were later found to be illegal — and Gara said that approach was pitting Alaskans against each other.

Alaskans shouldn’t have to choose between a well-funded education system and a large Permanent Fund dividend, Gara said, and the state could easily find new revenues by repealing tax credits on the state’s oil producers. Gara criticized Dunleavy’s cuts for focusing on public education and the University of Alaska system, and for the administration’s interpretation of the Power Cost Equalization fund that led to a successful lawsuit against the state.

“That’s not leadership, that’s negligence,” Gara said.

[Next special session to begin Monday, not Friday]

Gara grew up in foster care from the age of 6, following his father’s murder, and has been active in foster care work both as a lawmaker and professionally. In 2018, Gara received an Adoption Excellence Award from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and a Casey Excellence for Children Award from Casey Family Programs, a national foster care advocacy group, in 2017.

That experience provided Gara with many challenges, he said, but he was eventually able to attend college and then Harvard Law School. But that was only possible, he said, because of things like public education, scholarships and job training programs, the things he said Dunleavy cut first.

“The governor does not have a single plan for revenues,” Gara said. “He put the state in austerity mode which has caused people to leave because people don’t see a future in the state.”

Repealing tax credits on oil companies is a priority for Gara, which he said would give the state more money for its needs like schools and infrastructure maintenance. Gara said the austerity approach chosen by the Dunleavy administration wasn’t necessary.

“If we ended those tax credits we would have the money to do those things we need in the state,” Gara said. “You should be able to do all of those things, but it requires you stop giving away the state’s oil wealth.”

Gara is one of four registered candidates for governor, and so far the only Democrat. In addition to Dunleavy, a Republican, Gara is facing off against former Gov. Bill Walker, who is running as an independent, and Libertarian candidate Billy Toien. The election is still over a year away and will be the first election in the state to have both open primaries and ranked choice voting.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

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