ANCHORAGE — Statewide political candidates Wednesday got a chance to say how they would shape the future for Alaskans who won’t even be able to vote for at least four years.
Three candidates hoping to be elected governor in November and three Republicans hoping to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Begich answered questions posed by students from 11 Anchorage middle schools in a forum sponsored by AARP Alaska at the Loussac Library.
Democrat Byron Mallott, independent Bill Walker and incumbent Republican Gov. Sean Parnell vowed strong support for public schools. They split over how health care should be provided for needy residents.
Parnell last year chose not to extend Medicare eligibility to those up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line. Walker said he would accept Medicaid expansion if the federal government paid 100 percent of the costs.
“Medicaid expansion is something that Alaskans have paid for, No. 1,” Walker said. Expansion would provide the benefits to 40,000 more Alaskans, he said, and potentially create 4,000 new jobs.
“If we don’t, our dollars will go to another state,” Walker said.
Mallott said his first act as governor would be to accept Medicaid expansion. “Every Alaskan deserves and should have affordable health care,” he said.
Parnell said the middle school students in the audience would pay the debt for Medicaid expansion. A better alternative for the 10,000 people he said would be affected was to address the gaps in health care.
“They need more help with chronic care and specialty care,” Parnell said. “We can do that on a more targeted basis with state funds rather than putting you all at risk for your financial future.”
Begich did not attend the Senate forum.
Republican Senate hopefuls touted their credentials for making tough decisions that they said have been put off by current congressional representatives on issues such as the long-term future of Social Security.
Joe Miller pledged to address “intergenerational theft,” or borrowing from future taxpayers to pay current debts.
Everybody knows unfunded federal liabilities are a problem, Dan Sullivan said.
“Right now, you don’t have anyone in Washington working on it,” he said. “They’re kicking the can down the road, and the people who are going to be harmed the most are you.”
Mead Treadwell told students he would take on the tough issues.
“We have a House and a Senate in Washington that won’t address these issues because they disagree, and I’m not going back there to kick the problems down the road,” Treadwell said. “I’m going back there to help solve problems.”
Several eighth-graders said they thought Parnell had acquitted himself well. Hunter Lukacz, 15, said he was especially impressed by Parnell’s closing remarks, in which the governor said he hoped their generation would be the last to experience domestic violence.
“Use your strength to protect and defend,” Parnell told the boys in the audience.