Former state Rep. Les Gara becomes fourth candidate for Alaska’s governor

a person stands amidst a crowd
Les Gara attends an Aug. 4, 2021 dedication for a new Dena’ina place names project. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

Former state Rep. Les Gara announced that he’s running for governor.

The Anchorage Democrat said in his announcement that he would support good-paying jobs, including through state construction projects and good job training. He cited his experience as a fisherman and said he wants to protect salmon from the proposed Pebble Mine.

“Alaskans deserve a bright future and this governor has made it very dark,” Gara said of Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy. He criticized the proposal Dunleavy made in 2019 to cut state funding for public education by roughly a quarter, and cuts the governor has made to the University of Alaska under a compact with the university board.

Gara, 58, is the fourth candidate to file for the primary, to be held on Aug. 16, 2022. The others are independent former Gov. Bill Walker, Libertarian Billy Toien and Dunleavy.

Gara said he supports “responsible development” of oil and has supported the state’s existing mines. He has worked as a lawyer, and served as an assistant attorney general working on litigation after the Exxon Valdez oil spill. He also is part-owner of the Snow City Cafe restaurant, but isn’t involved in managing it.

Gara served in the House from 2003 to 2019, representing downtown Anchorage.

He said that as a member of the House minority for all but two of those years, he had to work harder to get things done. That includes working on a law that requires that new schools and state buildings be built to energy efficiency standards.

“That saves money and helps us move forward on climate change at the same time,” he said. “Those are smart things to do — putting people to work to address climate change.”

Gara is a vocal advocate for services for children, and passed legislation making changes to the state’s foster care system. He was raised in the foster system after his father was murdered when he was 6 years old.

He cited the experience in explaining why Alaskans should vote for him.

“I think I’m like many Alaskans: I grew up without privilege, without great wealth, with some struggles, like a lot of Alaskans have,” Gara said.

Gara declined to say why Alaskans should prefer him to Walker as an alternative to Dunleavy, other than to say that they get along and that each would present their case to Alaskans.

The top four finishers in the primary will advance to the general election. That election will be the first held under Alaska’s new ranked-choice voting system. If the top finisher in the first round of voting receives less than half of the votes, then the votes of those whose first preference finished last will be redistributed to the other candidates. The process is repeated until a candidate is the top preference of 50 percent of the voters, or all ballots have been exhausted.

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Andrew Kitchenman is the state government and politics reporter for Alaska Public Media and KTOO in Juneau. Reach him at akitchenman@alaskapublic.org.

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