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Benson, Treadwell clash: Candidates debate issues at Kenai forum

Posted: Thursday, October 07, 2010

Lieutenant governor hopefuls Diane Benson and Mead Treadwell visited Kenai on Wednesday to spar, though many of their comments came out more as endorsements of their gubernatorial running mates.

Photo By M. Scott Moon
Photo By M. Scott Moon
Lt. gov. candidates Diane Benson and Mead Treadwell debate Wednesday at the Challenger Learning Center.

The two met at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska as part of a Kenai-Soldotna Joint Chamber of Commerce Luncheon.

Treadwell, running on the Republican ticket, told a less than packed room that he expected Gov. Sean Parnell to lean on him for his experience in international business, working in the arctic, knowledge of oil and gas issues as well as on education and research, if the two are elected.

Benson, who is running on the Democrat ticket, said she expected gubernatorial hopeful Ethan Berkowitz to likewise make use of her expertise if they go to Juneau.

"In my case with lots of committee and community work, particularly on sensitive issues, I bring that to the table," she said.

She also highlighted her background and knowledge of working with rural communities on the issues they face.

When asked what differences the candidates expected residents of the Peninsula would see if their team were elected, Treadwell spoke of creating more jobs.

He pointed to opportunities to develop geothermal energy and incentives to spur drilling in Cook Inlet among others.

Benson responded differently.

"First of all, we would have stood up for the Agrium plant, and started protecting the jobs that were already here," she said. "We wouldn't be cutting projects and money for projects like this administration has already done in renewables."

The biggest sticking points between the two candidates, however, came out more in debate over the development of a natural gas pipeline from the North Slope, as well as the with the state's current and future relationship with the federal government.

Benson was quick to defend Berkowitz's proposal to create his "Great Alaska Pipeline Inc.," a private-public partnership that would fund a natural gas line.

"We have an ownership stake so people have the chance to invest in the pipeline," she said. "That's not a gimmick, that's an opportunity."

It was a point, however, that Treadwell criticized.

"No matter how many commercials you make and no matter how many four-wheelers you drive with a canister of propane, you cannot have a pipeline without buyers and sellers getting together," Treadwell said.

Treadwell's reference to the propane canister was directed at one that Benson brought with her; a prop she and Berkowitz have toted across the state on the campaign trail as the only gas to be shipped from the North Slope thus far.

Through the campaign season Parnell and Treadwell have painted Berkowitz's proposal as economically out of touch, while Berkowitz and Benson have challenged that the incumbent has spent millions with nothing new to offer.

Those war cries were echoed at the debate.

Treadwell defended the current open season process and called it, "so far successful."

"You've got these processes under way to bring buyers and sellers together to get to a deal. You get to a businesses deal, then you're going to have it," he said.

Benson was quick to retort though that there were still no results.

"Frankly why there is no public information provided on the results of the open season is beyond me," she said. "What are you hiding?"

When asked to comment on the level of regulation placed on Alaska businesses by the Environmental Protection Agency, Benson said she saw several problems, specifically with communication between state and federal agencies.

She also said she wanted to see more reliance on science and local knowledge when it comes to decision-making.

"I would say that overall it's about right," she said, "Except that, it's how we apply it."

Treadwell appeared more animated than on any other point in the debate when the microphone was passed his way though.

"With all due respect, I think would be crazy to say it's about right," he said. "Let's just take one example. There have been about eight decisions made by the Obama Administration this year to choke off new supplies for the TAPS Pipeline, which is running one third full."

He added: "We have to stand up against federal encroachment in any place we can."

Dante Petri can be reached at dante.petri@peninsulaclarion.com.



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