Four gubernatorial candidates took questions at a Chamber of Commerce forum Wednesday in Soldotna. It quickly turned into a debate between the two bigger names on the ballot, Gov. Sean Parnell and Bill Walker.
Wednesday’s forum at the Soldotna Sports Center was mostly an opportunity to lay out broad visions for the state. Especially from the race’s lesser known candidates, like J.R. Meyers, running with the Alaska Constitution party.
Meyers: “We’re hoping to gain more than 3% of the vote in this election, which will then give us political party status going into the future. We think the political marketplace in Alaska could benefit from freer exchange of diverse ideas.”
Libertarian party candidate Carolyn Clift was the other quote unquote fringe candidate.
Clift: “At this time when we are facing fiscal crises for the next few years, you need someone who is libertarian. That’s going to go in there and minimize government, look for the efficiencies and we are going to go in there and lean this government down.”
Most of the answers came in the form of similar platitudes, based on each candidate’s agenda. For Walker and Parnell, Wednesday’s agenda was mostly filled with responses to each other’s thinly veiled attacks.
Parnell: “I’m not sure it’s being under attack when I point out that Bill Walker plan for cutting the budget is about cutting 16% in one year and then asking him for the plan on how that gets allocated. I call it a fiscal plan; spending less and taxing less, which is the direction we’ve headed and we’ll continue to head.”
Walker said his plan to reduce the state’s budget would be put in place over the course of years, if at all. He hopes to improve revenues so those cuts won’t be necessary in the first place.
Walker: “Governor Parnell’s administration created the largest deficits we’ve ever had. Every year is deficit spending for the next ten years. That’s his plan. If that’s a plan that works for you at 7 million dollars a day, this is your guy right here.”
Budgets and natural gas lines got the lion’s share of attention from the two leading candidates. But less thoroughly examined was the state’s record on domestic abuse and charges of misconduct and abuse within the upper ranks of the Alaska National Guard. After the forum, Parnell said he trusted the National Guard Bureau in its findings that misconduct reporting since 2012 has greatly improved, and he sees more changes in Guard leadership in the future.
Parnell: “Certainly those (sexual assault issues) still exist, but we have to restore trust and confidence so people are willing to report. We’re interviewing people for the new adjutant general position, and that person will use their leadership role to bring about full scale change in the guard in conjunction with the National Guard Bureau.”
Parnell has been criticized for delaying action after reports of sexual assault were made known to his office and allowing top Guard officers to be re-hired in the wake of misconduct investigations.