Former Alaska U.S. Senator Mark Begich greets and speaks to Juneau residents interested in his campaign for governor at the IBEW Local 1547 Union office on Thursday, June 29, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Former Alaska U.S. Senator Mark Begich greets and speaks to Juneau residents interested in his campaign for governor at the IBEW Local 1547 Union office on Thursday, June 29, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Opinion: Mark Begich should step aside this year

  • By Don Gray
  • Tuesday, August 21, 2018 1:44pm
  • Opinion

Bill Walker and Byron Mallott have steered us through one of the most challenging periods of our recent history.

Walker and Mallott are running for re-election on the strength of a fiscal plan compromise that restored Alaska’s credit rating, closed 80 percent of the massive budget deficit they inherited and preserves the Permanent Fund Dividend in perpetuity.

They have staunchly defended education funding, closed the budget gap to restore fiscal certainty, and taken measures to preserve the PFD for future generations. While navigating this storm, they have brought Alaska natural gas closer to market than ever before. Change doesn’t come easy and progress is a step at a time. Compromises have been made to reach agreement. The accomplishments in the last four years were hard-fought, worth defending, and yet all could be lost come November. How will a three-way race lead to anything but an extremist non-majority governor?

Walker and Mallott have shown unrelenting political courage and a commitment to do the right thing. There is no one organization, party or group, left or right, that has been entirely satisfied by the Walker-Mallott administration … an indication of how much is in the middle ground between left and right.

Thousands of Alaskans have expressed a deep concern about the risk of handing the race to a far-right ultra conservative. They are rational concerns because there is a lot to lose.

Forty thousand Alaskans now have health insurance because Walker expanded Medicaid, funded mostly with federal dollars. Put another way, 40,000 Alaskans could lose health insurance this November. Mike Dunleavy has said he wants to rollback Medicaid expansion. He wants $1 billion in additional slash and burn budget cuts. Those cuts will come directly out of our public schools, police and public safety, and the health services provided to our most vulnerable low-income fellow Alaskans. Those are the stakes.

Walker/Mallott have surrounded themselves with powerful women in government — appointing more female judges and more female cabinet members than any past administration, including Alaska’s second female attorney general and first female adjutant general.

Walker and Mallott have gone farther than any previous administration to recognize tribal sovereignty. Last year, Walker signed a historic compact with Alaska Native agencies that recognizes the authority of tribes to provide child welfare services in their own communities. The Walker agreement is the first of its kind in the country, and sends a clear message: Native governments, leaders, culture are legitimate, worthy and the best equipped to keep Native children safe.

Thousands of Alaska voters want to unite behind a team that will continue to build a sustainable fiscal future, preserve a sustainable Permanent Fund dividend, expand access to health care, improve outcomes for children, and address climate change. That’s the team we have right now.

This is why I and a statewide group of Alaska leaders began a petition asking Begich to withdraw from this race. By entering in the last 30 minutes before the filing deadline, Begich caused a three-way race which splits the moderate vote and rewards the extremist candidate. As moderate Alaskans we ask Begich to withdraw. All of us have supported him in the past, but we won’t change horses in mid-stream.

In the last 48 hours, the number of signers has doubled. We hope you’ll consider signing it. The stakes are too high.

• Don Gray is a 48-year resident of Fairbanks who served eight years on the Alaska State Board of Education and six years on the Alaska Mental Health Board. He taught 23 years at Lathrop High School and was a licensed stockbroker for 12 years with Morgan Stanley Dean Witter and Wedbush Morgan Securities.

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