Courtesy photo | Dr. Al Gross for U.S. Senate                                 Dr. Al Gross has gained national attention as a strong contender to oust Sen. Dan Sullivan in the 2020 Senate race.

Courtesy photo | Dr. Al Gross for U.S. Senate Dr. Al Gross has gained national attention as a strong contender to oust Sen. Dan Sullivan in the 2020 Senate race.

Senate candidate thinks a public health option will attract jobs

Senate candidate thinks a public health option will attract jobs

The ongoing pandemic has exposed how dependent Alaska is on the resource industry and tourism, U.S. Senate candidate Dr. Al Gross told the Empire in an interview recently, and he hopes his leadership could diversify the economy.

Gross said in his opinion, even before COVID-19 reached the state, the leadership Alaska needed from Washington was not coming from one of the state’s current senators, Dan Sullivan, a Republican.

“I’m very excited to be (running) at a time when Alaska lacks leadership in the federal government,” Gross said. “I’m a lifelong Alaskan, I have a keen understanding of what makes the economy work and I’m in unique position to lead Alaskans to a prosperous future.”

Gross, who was born and raised in Juneau, has never served in elected office but said he’s been in leadership roles in everything he’d done in life. According to his campaign website, Gross served as president of the Bartlett Regional Hospital Medical Staff (a position known formally as the Cheif of Medical Staff, according to BRH spokesperson Katie Bausler) before becoming founder and president of the Juneau Bone and Joint Center.

He also certainly grew up in a political household. His father, Avram Gross, served as Attorney General under Gov. Jay Hammond from 1974-1980 and his mother, Shari, was the first Executive Director of the United Fishermen of Alaska and founded the League of Women Voters Alaska, according to his website.

Karen Crane, president of the Juneau League of Women Voters quibbled with the word “founded” because the League itself was founded in 1920 in Washington, D.C., but she said confidently the campaign’s statement was accurate.

“I would have just used the word ‘started,’ Crane said. ‘But she was the first president in Juneau and the first president statewide, she brought the League of Women Voters to Alaska.”

The elder Gross was a Democrat serving in a Republican administration and Gross said that legacy gives him a strong sense of bipartisanship which will ” help meditate some of the more contentious issues facing our country in a way that will benefit our state and country best.”

[More funding will come Sullivan says, but when is another matter]

Gross is an orthopedic surgeon and Alaska’s health care system is one area where he thinks a big impact can be made.

“Alaska needs a public health care option to individuals and small businesses,” Gross said. “The high cost of health care in Alaska is keeping small businesses from being successful. A public health care option would encourage other businesses to move to the state.”

Alaska should be trying to attract more internet-based jobs, Gross said, and work toward selling more finished products rather than raw materials for the resources the state does sell, like timber. Lowering health care costs for businesses would allow them to invest in value-added products, Gross argued.

“I have a vision for Alaska’s future, an economic plan, a vision to bring jobs and opportunity,” Gross said. “We need to level the playing field and find way to invite other businesses.”

Gross is running as an independent, something he says distinguishes him from Sullivan, who Gross said represented the status quo and was beholden to Republican Party and special interest group priorities.

He may be running as an independent, but in Alaska, independents can still run in Democratic Party primaries and be nominated as that party’s candidate. Gross has already earned the endorsement of the Alaska Democratic Party and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

[New bills could bring more coronavirus relief money, spending flexibility]

Those connections were highlighted by Matt Shuckerow, Sullivan’s campaign manager, when asked to respond to Gross’ comments.

“I think is seems a little rich for someone like Al Gross to say something along those lines when he openly praises Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, folks that are leading the charge for things like the Green New Deal,” Shuckerow said. “These are unabashed opponents of Alaska. He even backed Bernie Sanders’ campaign.”

Shuckerow said Sullivan had a demonstrable history of leadership in the Senate and pointed to the senator’s recent efforts to expand the use of federal COVID-19 relief money to account for the needs of Alaska businesses.

According to campaign finance tracking website OpenSecrets.com, Gross has raised more than $4.6 million and Sullivan more than $7.5 million based on a July 22, Federal Elections Commission filing. Both Gross and Sullivan have received the bulk of their funding from out-of-state sources, according to OpenSecrets. Based on July 16, FEC filings, 24.1% of Gross’s donations have come from in-state donors and Sullivan 17.4%. The three largest contributing states in descending order are California, Washington and New York, the site says.

Gross still has two opponents from for the Democratic primary Aug. 18, but if he fails to secure that party’s nomination he would still be able to run as an independent.

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

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