Virtual debate: Alaska U.S. Senate candidates face off on fisheries

A screengrab of a virtual debate. The image shows a countdown timing senators' responses. Also pictured is Rhonda McBride, Dan Sullivan and Al Gross.
The Kodiak Chamber of Commerce’s U.S. Senate debate is the only Alaska political forum of its kind devoted exclusively to fisheries. The debate was moderated by KMXT journalist Rhonda McBride. (Screenshot)

The Kodiak Chamber of Commerce’s U.S. Senate debate is the only Alaska political forum of its kind devoted exclusively to fisheries. And Saturday night’s showdown between U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan and his challenger, Al Gross, had some heated exchanges.

“If this was a NASCAR race, you would have corporate sponsor patches all over your jacket,” said Gross, who accused his Republican opponent of being beholden to special interests and rattled off a long list.

“The plastics industry. Big pharma. Big oil on your hat, and I’d save this spot right here in the middle for Pebble mine,” Gross said.

“The Pebble Mine is dead, and I’m going to keep it that way,” Sullivan fired back.

Read Alaska Public Media’s coverage of the 2020 Elections

Gross referred to a secretly-recorded video, in which the head of Pebble Mine claims Sullivan silently supports the mine.

Dan, you’re hiding in the corner on Pebble Mine. I think you need to come out of the closet on this,” Gross said.

Sullivan said he only supported the permitting process, not the mine itself.

“So, look Al, you know you can keep saying what you want on Pebble,” Sullivan said. “I came out opposed to it on August 24th, after the process ran. That’s the facts.”

RELATED: Pebble execs tell ‘investors’ Murkowski and Sullivan are no barrier to controversial mine

Sullivan said there’s a bigger issue that’s more important: control of the Senate. He said that if Gross were to win, it would put Democrats like Chuck Schumer in the driver’s seat.

“If you look at their national agenda, it is an agenda that is anti-Alaska,” Sullivan said. “It’s anti-resource development. It’s anti-Second Amendment.”

Sullivan also said the loss of his senate seat might give Washington State Sen. Maria Cantwell the chairmanship of the Commerce Committee, which would put Seattle’s interests ahead of Alaska’s.

Although Gross had emphasized earlier in the debate that he’s a strong supporter of Second Amendment rights, Sullivan argued that he would have to cave in to Democrats, who advocate for gun control.

But Gross said, as an independent, he is free to represent Alaska interests — while it is Sullivan who is beholden to his own Republican party. He also criticized Sullivan’s staunch support of President Trump.

The debate ran for almost an hour-and-a-half on Zoom. Sullivan had a campaign setting for a backdrop. Gross was outdoors, wearing a camouflage jacket. The two sparred over a variety of issues — from COVID-19 economic relief for fishermen, to climate change’s impact on fisheries, as well as Arctic policies and seafood tariffs.

Watch the full debate here:

Note: The author of this article, reporter Rhonda McBride, moderated the debate.

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