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Editor’s Note: KMXT will interview gubernatorial candidates when they campaign in Kodiak. You can find more information about the August special election, primaries and candidates for all races here.
Election season is underway for Alaska’s race for governor; former governor and nonpartisan candidate Bill Walker made a campaign stop ahead of the August primary during Crab Fest weekend – in late May. Former Alaska state representative and Democratic candidate Les Gara also campaigned in Kodiak in late July. Republican candidate Charlie Pierce also campaigned in Kodiak in May; KMXT was not aware of his visit beforehand or contacted by his campaign to schedule an interview.
Fisheries policy is one of the most pressing issues for many Kodiak voters, and former governor Bill Walker says local fishermen need to be better represented on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which oversees fisheries in Alaska’s exclusive economic zone.
“There’s 11 seats on there, which Alaska has six, and Washington has five, so I want to make sure that we have people on there that know who they represent, that they’re wearing our uniform, so to speak: the Alaska uniform,” Walker said.
Former state representative Les Gara argued that Gov. Dunleavy’s appointees to the council had not done enough to act in Alaska’s interest.
“The people that he nominated, they voted to not do anything about chum salmon bycatch in a year where fish are not going up the Kuskokwim,” Gara said.
Both candidates say that Kodiak is “the poster child for renewable energy” and support further development of renewable resources in Alaska.
And when it comes to the Alaska Marine Highway System, each candidate agreed that it’s a vitally important connection for rural coastal communities. Walker’s running mate Heidi Drygas was born in Fairbanks, and moved to Juneau in 2015. She says it’s given her a new perspective of the value of the ferry system.
“It’s frustrating to hear about the days of old when we had a vibrant marine highway system with, even in the 90s, where we had a predictable schedule, the ships were in good working order,” Drygas said.
Gara also wants to build a more reliable ferry system, and blames present-day woes on the current governor.
“I would reestablish a pre-Mike Dunleavy marine highway system, one that works, one that is affordable for people, one that has scheduled frequent marine highway stops,” Gara said. “The Marine highway is important to businesses. It’s important for tourism, it’s important for residents.”
Kodiak is host to the largest Coast Guard base in the United States, and both candidates were asked about Arctic security. Walker says he wants the Coast Guard’s new icebreakers to be homeported in Alaska instead of Seattle, and he also supports the construction of a Navy base in Alaska.
“I have had conversations with the Secretary of the Navy talking to him about the reopening of Adak or another coastal port that provides a naval presence in Alaska,” Walker said. “The response I got was that if there was a need or concern, it would be covered… Alaska would be covered out of San Diego, which just didn’t feel quite as urgent as I was interested in.”
Gara says he’s in favor of increasing the size of Alaska’s Coast Guard presence.
“We want to Alaskanize as much of this fleet as possible from Homer, to Nome, to Juneau; there are harbor and port expansion needs that could help local communities first, but also be built in a way that could house the federal vessels,” Gara said.
Whether their stances resonate with voters is yet to be seen – the primary for Alaska governor is fast approaching on August 16th. Early voting has already begun in some Alaska communities, and absentee in-person voting started in Kodiak on August 1. KMXT is interviewing gubernatorial candidates when they campaign in Kodiak.