Straight to the point: Candidates participate in chamber forum

Posted: Thursday, July 15, 2010

When time is limited, get to the point. That was the challenge met by the five Alaska gubernatorial candidates who attended Wednesday's debate in Kenai.

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Photo By M. Scott Moon
Photo By M. Scott Moon
Alaska governor Sean Parnell and challenger Ralph Samuels listen to fellow challenger Bill Waker during a debate Wednesday afternoon in Kenai. The three are each vying for the the Republican ticket in the governor's race this fall. Parnell, Samuels, Walker, Republican Sam Little and Democrat Hollis French each took questions during the debate at a joint meeting of the Soldotna and Kenai chambers of commerce.

The candidates who came to the forum, co-sponsored by the Kenai and Soldotna chambers of commerce, were given 60 seconds to answer each question. The debate attracted Republican candidates Gov. Sean Parnell, Ralph Samuels, Bill Walker and Sam Little. State Sen. Hollis French was the lone Democrat.

Democratic candidate Ethan Berkowitz and Republican candidates Brad Snowden, Gerald Heikes and Merica Hlatcu did not attend.

The candidates addressed ways to improve the Kenai Peninsula and Alaska's economies, Arizona's illegal immigration law, state retirement systems, Certificate of Need laws pertaining to the state's health care facilities, abortion and the proposed Pebble mine project.

Some questions came from a prepared list created by the chambers of commerce while others were written submissions from audience members.

The biggest crowd response came when Parnell was asked what changes would come if voters granted him another term.

"I'd like to change the makeup of the Legislature," Parnell said, inciting roars of laughter.

With only one Democratic representative, Wednesday's event felt like preparation for the Aug. 24 Republican primary.

Parnell repeated his openness to all gas pipeline options and his belief in providing incentives to help stimulate the economy.

"If you put a carrot out there for companies to go after then they will invest money," Parnell said.

Samuels and Walker, a former Valdez mayor, devoted much of their rationed time to questioning the status quo.

"I look at the current administration and I see that the policies are really good for government and that's it," Samuels said. "In 10 years, what kind of economy do you want to see? What kind of Alaska do you want to see?"

Walker called for more action and wants to "stop studying and start building" to improve the economy.

"I don't like knowing what I know and not doing anything about it," Walker said. "It's time that we stop doing nothing and that we start being the Alaska that we want to be."

Little, a truck driver whose blue jeans and black cowboy hat contrasted the other candidates's blazers, ties and sweaters on Wednesday, emphasized the need to preserve Alaska's fishing industry.

"Thousands of people depend on the fishing industry," Little said. "We need to get that back on track."

French emphasized education and renewable energy.

"Renewable energy, renewable energy, renewable energy," French said when asked to address the state's economy. "The best long-term economic future is to sell oil and gas to somebody else and use that money to invest in renewable energy."

On improving the Peninsula's economy, Walker stressed the need to address the cost of energy, Samuels called for limiting government spending, Parnell discussed empowering the people by increasing jobs and lowering taxes. Little called for building a fish-storage warehouse and French suggested spending more on renewable energy.

On Pebble mine, French and Little spoke against it while Samuels, Walker and Parnell said we need to allow the permitting process to unfold before jumping to conclusions.

On education and a potential brain drain in Alaska, Walker and Samuels stressed creating jobs that will keep graduates in state, Parnell called for encouraging students to take more demanding courses, Little discussed a new focus on trade schools and French said better education starts with great teachers.

Andrew Waite can be reached at

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