The three Republican U.S. Senate candidates squared off against each other in the KTUU Channel 2 debate Aug. 14, touching mostly on old and familiar themes.
On most issues there were only shades of differences, and all three took opportunities to take shots at Sen. Mark Begich, the Democrat incumbent one of them will face in the November general election.
Mead Treadwell, currently the lieutenant governor; Dan Sullivan, former state attorney general and natural resources commissioner, and Joe Miller, a Fairbanks attorney and the Republican Senate candidate in 2010, met in what may be their last face-to-face confrontation before the Aug. 19 primary.
There were a few barbs: Treadwell asked Sullivan when he first legally caught a salmon in Alaska, a way of drawing attention to the first Alaska fishing license received by Sullivan, which Treadwell said was in 2009.
Sullivan didn’t answer the question and complained that of all three candidates he was the one exposed to a huge negative campaign funded mostly from out-of-state.
“Why are they so afraid of me?” he said. “Is it because I’m the mostly likely to defeat Begich?”
On immigration, all three candidates opposed “amnesty” for illegal immigrants. Sullivan endorsed efforts to reunite children migrating to the U.S. with families, “back home.”
“We are a nation of immigrants, but also a nation of law,” he said.
Treadwell said his priority would be to make U.S. borders secure. He supports humanitarian and private volunteer efforts to help immigrants but not the creation of more federal programs.
“That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me,” he said.
Miller said illegal immigration is something that could rip the nation’s fabric apart.
“People are coming here illegally and if they become citizens they will vote,” he said, adding his concern that most illegal immigrants wind up favoring Democrats.
“I believe lawful immigration is great, though,” Miller said.
On veterans’ affairs, Treadwell said although Begich in on the Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee in the Senate has been, “asleep at the switch,” on the issue.
“We need a senator who will be vigilant in protecting veterans’ rights,” Treadwell said.
His father and grandfather were veterans who often had to drive long distances — right past large, modern hospitals and health facilities — to get care.
“Veterans should be able to get care where they live, not hundreds of miles away,” he said.
Miller went after Treadwell on his long support of the long-pending Law of the Sea Treaty, a prime target for conservatives. It was an indirect way of questioning Treadwell’s conservative credentials.
Treadwell responded: “When I came to Alaska there were foreign fishing fleets off our coasts taking our fish, and it took a law of the sea (the U.S. 200-mile limit legislation) to gain control of these resources. The Law of the Sea Treaty does the same thing. It will extend U.S. ownership of resources out into large areas of the Arctic,” north of Alaska, over which the nation now has no jurisdiction, Treadwell said.
Miller wasn’t convinced: “This is a path to opening the Arctic by compromising our sovereignty,” through provisions of the treaty that grant authority to international bodies. The U.S. can gain every benefit and every protection of the treaty through bilateral agreements, “without giving up our rights,” Miller said.
Treadwell asked Miller what he would do about the 60 ocean vessels carrying oil and gas that transited the Bering Straits last year along a coastline that is completely unprotected from oil spills.
Miller sidestepped, using the question to drum his basic themes.
“The greatest threat to our national security is the national debt. It is preventing us from building the icebreakers we need and giving more resources to the Coast Guard,” he said.
On energy issues, Sullivan said America is starting to see a renaissance in energy and that Alaska should be leading it. Alaska is seeing is own renaissance in oil and gas, at first in Cook Inlet and now on the North Slope, he said. Sullivan noted his own role as state resources commissioner in encouraging the Cook Inlet rebirth and negotiating the Point Thomas gas settlement, which helped get things moving on the Slope.
“Alaska can lead the nation in energy but we need the federal government to be a partner, not an obstacle,” Sullivan said.
Miller said he supports changes in federal laws to allow oil export and opposes any law that would limit natural gas exports.
“If there is ever a resource security issue we can stop exports quickly. This is an issue of preserving jobs in energy and our energy-producing capability,” which is also important to national security, Miller said.
In closing, Treadwell said, “I’ve lived here 40 years and I think Alaska needs to send someone to Washington who knows Alaska.”
“I’m ready to support the dream of statehood, in bringing decisions back to Alaska.”
Miller said, “For too long we’ve sent people to D.C. who wind up bending. We’ve got to be firm,” on principles. He emphasized his conservative credentials, noting he is the only candidate in the primary endorsed by American Right to Life and groups protecting the rights of gun owners.
Sullivan said he has met too many people through the campaign, “who have lost hope in our government and our country. We can turn this around,” he said.
“My whole career has been one of taking action,” as we have in turning around Alaska’s petroleum industry, he said. “We can do the same for the nation.”
Tim Bradner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.