Alaska in Brief

Q&A with 2022 Alaska governor candidate Les Gara

By: - July 28, 2022 1:07 am

Les Gara, Democratic candidate for Alaska governor, is seen on June 8, 2022 in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

The Alaska Beacon asked Alaska’s 10 governor candidates to answer a 15-question survey about their positions on a variety of issues. Read all of their responses here.

Les Gara, Democratic candidate from Anchorage

Yes/no questions

Do you support a constitutional convention?

No

Should the Alaska Constitution be amended to protect the roughly $30 billion in the Permanent Fund that currently isn’t constitutionally protected?

Yes

Should Alaska spend public money to ensure a natural gas pipeline is built?

No

Do you think the state prioritizes commercial and sport fishing over subsistence fishing?

Yes

Would you allow a bill limiting transgender athletes to become law with or without your signature?

No

Open-ended questions

How should the state of Alaska set the amount of the Permanent Fund dividend each year?

I believe in a strong, growing PFD people can bank on, not the false, unfunded PFD promises this Governor has made to get votes.

We can have a strong PFD (that doesn’t take away from schools and other major priorities). But a Governor has to have the courage to fund it, without taking from schools, jobs, and the priorities that make Alaska strong, which Gov. Dunleavy never has. That’s why Dunleavy’s PFD averaged $1,230 his first 3 years as Governor.

Last year, with no plan again to fund a PFD, Dunleavy came up with a last minute plan to raid $3 billion from the Permanent Fund. That would have been the largest raid and reduction in Permanent Fund value in state history.

The most important part is funding a PFD, so it’s real and not false, and doesn’t require last-minute raids on the Permanent Fund by a Governor without a plan. Gov. Dunleavy has refused to do that until Russia’s invasion of Ukraine this year sent us one year of higher oil revenue, in an election year.

His record on the PFD is poor. In 2016 as a legislator, he voted to uphold the 2016 PFD Veto that reduced the PFD to $1,020 (I voted to override that veto saying it was not the way to set PFD policy Alaskans would accept, and Alaskans have been pitted against each other ever since).

Dunleavy has NEVER proposed any sustainable way to fund a PFD. My PFD with be real, strong, and funded.

We have to fund what we promise. I’d end $1.2 billion of unjustifiable oil company subsidies, so we have the funds to stop pitting Alaskans who support schools, a PFD, a construction job budget, road maintenance, and renewable energy projects against each other.

By getting a fair share for Alaska’s oil, we could have a growing PFD exceeding $2,000 EVERY year, and could strongly support schools, seniors, renewable energy projects, construction jobs, needed infrastructure and community projects, road maintenance, a strong Marine Highway, children, and mental health and substance abuse treatment.

This Governor has turned Alaskans against each other over these things every year. I’ll work to unite Alaskans again.

What’s Alaska’s biggest need, and how would you address it?

As someone who grew up in foster care, I know people deserve a fair and equal opportunity to succeed in life. Most Alaskans have battled some form of harm, but all of us deserve the right to a good education, opportunity, and an economy with good paying jobs, whether they are born rich or poor. The biggest need is to have a state with a a bright future again, and that means good schools and good jobs.

20,000 more people have left Alaska than moved here under this Governor because they see no commitment to public education for their children, and no future allowing their children to find good work here. I’d build a stronger economy.

We need to end $1.2 billion of unjustifiable state oil company subsidies, so we can afford the things that create opportunity and an economy. With those funds we could have great schools again, have a construction, infrastructure, and renewable energy budget that puts people to work across Alaska, not just in an election year. We could help families afford quality child care so they can go to work.

Good schools, a strong, affordable university and great job training will allow us to train a needed workforce, help people achieve their goals, and produce the workforce businesses need. If we don’t do this, people will keep moving away, and we won’t have the workforce to build a strong economy.

On the Gasline question – the questionnaire only offers a Yes or No option. The state can invest a modest amount if needed, only if we know we will make a positive return for Alaskans. A pipeline where we smartly and safely store greenhouse gasses underground will be the most likely to succeed. Politicians can’t keep promising failed gasline projects. The world is moving towards green energy. Politicians have to stop ignoring reality, and prove the natural gas technology to store greenhouse gasses is credible (it’s promising) as Asian natural gas buyers face rightful pressure to curb global warming. I would not favor a deal with Communist China, an untrustworthy partner.

What policies and laws should Alaska follow with regard to abortion?

I’m the only pro-choice candidate for Governor in this race. We should respect a woman’s right to choose, and require insurance companies and Medicaid to cover a year of contraception, which would reduce unintended pregnancies and abortions. I’m the only candidate who’ll ask future judges whether they’ll follow our pro-choice caselaw, so we don’t lose the right to choose by appointing judges who’ll take it away, as was just done on the federal level.

All my opponents describe themselves as “pro-life”. Some are extremists on choice, and would ban the right to choose. Governor Walker is pro-life. When he was governor he sued to block most Medicaid coverage of abortion for low income Alaskans, which was consistent with his current pro-life values. He promises, as he did last time he was Governor, that he’ll put his personal views against choice to the side.

In the end, last time he could not act against his personal pro-life values. Voters can judge his current promise and his past record.

I can only say with confidence what I’ll do. I’m the only candidate who can truthfully say I’m pro-choice and believe in your right to choose.

All my remaining opponents are extreme in their opposition to the right to choose. In August I hope you’ll vote for me and Jessica, the only pro-choice team in this race. In November, when there’s ranked choice voting, I’ll rank Walker second, ahead of candidates who are extreme in their anti-choice positions and views, and who I know for sure will act to eliminate your right to choose.

How should the state reduce the threat of gun violence and mass shootings?

Alaska is a state where people need firearms to hunt, and for self defense, and I would not change that. I support the 2nd Amendment. There is room for smart, bi-partisan safety legislation that Republicans and Democrats support, that does not take away 2nd Amendment rights. Republican and Democratic states, and former Republican Vice President Mike Pence, have supported carefully written laws allowing the temporary removal of firearms from those who are a proven fatal danger to themselves or others. Such a law needs to be written in a way that requires evidence, and due process, so firearms aren’t wrongly removed from anyone.

People on both sides of this issue agree we have inadequate mental health treatment, and we should do more than just say those words. We have to act to fill Alaska’s major mental health treatment gaps. That will make us safer, and provide humane help to those in need.

Currently former President Trump’s ban on equipment that can turn a legal firearm into an illegal automatic weapon (bump stocks) is being debated in the courts. If the Trump federal order falls, I would try to find bi-partisan consensus on equipment that allows one press of a trigger to shoot multiple rounds of ammunition, and that rule would have to be narrowly and smartly written. Citizens deserve legal fireams, but machine guns that shoot multiple rounds with one pull of a trigger are already illegal, and equipment turning a firearm into a machine gun shouldn’t be allowed as the number of mass shootings continues.

How much should a governor’s faith or religion determine state law and policy?

I will personally honor our Constitution, which requires a separation of church and state. It’s not clear what “how much” means in this question. I don’t believe we should ever criticize anyone for their religious values. Someone’s personal religious values might inform them, as in the Gospels, that we should help those in need. I personally believe in Governing to create opportunity for all, and in a way that gives everyone dignity and a truly fair chance to succeed in life. If someone’s religion causes them to believe in making life better for others, that is a good thing. But forcing religion on others, or violating the separation of church and state would not be allowed under my Administration.

What should the state do to improve retention of public employees, including teachers?

Teachers and Education: I have always supported public education, and have filed legislation to keep public school support up with inflation so schools don’t have to cut teachers, counsellors, nurses and courses. In 2018 I wrote Alaska’s last legislation that led to a multi-year education funding increase so schools could keep up with inflation costs, and Gov. Dunleavy tried and failed to block that funding.

Gov. Dunleavy tried cutting over a quarter billion dollars from public education his first year in office, which would have caused the firing of 2,800 teachers and educators and decimated our schools..

Until this year, education support has been allowed to lag $120 million behind inflation since 2014, causing the loss of counselors, teachers, courses, and opportunity. We should end the annual fight over school funding, support vibrant schools, and keep support up with inflation every year.

We lose teachers when districts don’t have enough to attract and retain them with a competitive salary. Today most districts have a much harder time attracting and retaining teachers than they did when we supported our schools.

Teachers, Police, Troopers, Firefighters and other employees: I am the only candidate who, while in office and when I had the chance, sponsored legislation to return to a cost-effective pension for teachers, police, firefighters, Troopers and other public employees. I hope other candidates finally get on board on this issue.

In 2006 I voted against ending pensions, warning that we’d have what exists now – teachers, police, firefighters and others, who have no pension, and who just leave Alaska for other states that do offer pensions. Alaska just loses money by wasting money training professionals who then leave after we train them.

Pensions are an incentive for police, teachers, Troopers, firefighters and other public servants to stay in Alaska, and not just train here and leave. The pension plans of the 1980’s were far too expensive and unsustainable. But a fair pension would cost roughly what the current retirement plan costs. And it would work as an incentive to keep our best employees in Alaska, because the longer they contribute to a pension, the stronger it becomes.

What does an ideal state ferry system look like?

I would work to return the Marine Highway system to what it was before it was decimated by Gov. Dunleavy in 2019. As a legislator I always supported road maintenance for people who live on the highway system, and the Marine Highway for people who live in coastal communities. Both require state support. Service should be reliable, available, and affordable. By cutting Marine Highway Service, the Governor has harmed people and businesses. Businesses relied on the Marine Highway it to transport goods, machinery, building supplies, food, and items that are now more expensive because of a decimated Marine Highway system.

An affordable Marine Highway also strengthens our tourism industry, which benefits greatly from independent travelers. Dunleavy’s major cuts have harmed residents and businesses.

What, if any, changes does the state need to make to ensure voting is equitable and secure?

I believe voting should be accessible and easy, and that elections should be accurate and verifiable. I have sponsored legislation to allow same-day voter registration, which is only allowed today in Presidential elections. Young voters who want to vote shouldn’t find out on election day that they had to register 30 days before Election Day, which is an arbitrary time period.

As a legislator I wrote legislation to require paper ballots to be produced even from computerized voting machines, so there can always be a verifiable recount. We should always recount enough precincts to make sure automatic counting was accurate. That is important and that will be done when I am Governor.

I support Alaska’s voter-passed initiative letting people register to vote, and update their voter information, automatically when they apply for their PFD.

With so many ballots disqualified in June (over 15% of ballots were disqualified in some parts of the state), I have called for a “ballot cure” law. That would require the state to tell someone there’s something wrong with their ballot, so the voter can fix the problem, and so their vote can be counted.

The current ballot rules are confusing. People are told they have to get a “notary public” to witness their signature for a mail in ballot “unless one is unavailable”. That’s confusing, burdensome, sometimes expensive, and the notary public provision should be dropped. Many voters don’t vote because they don’t know the level of proof to sign that a “notary public” is “unavailable.” That’s likely why some voters haven’t had a witness sign – because of the vague notary public warning on ballots.

We can do a lot better, make voting more accessible, and make sure our ballot counts are accurate verifiable.

What do you intend to do about the poor returns of salmon in the Yukon and Kuskokwim drainages, and what are the main causes of the problems?

Fish should bind all Alaskans, whether we fish for subsistence, commercially or for sport. Our fish are our second Permanent Fund. As a fisherman, I believe in protecting our fisheries so Alaska’s fish are here for this and the next generation. That’s why I oppose the massive, toxic, Pebble Mine which most Alaskans oppose, but that Gov. Dunleavy supports.

We need to respect and honor those facing fish shortages in the Yukon Kuskokwim region, and protect these runs.

First, Governor Dunleavy was wrong to say over 700,000 Alaskans qualified to “subsistence” fish for a poor, limited King Salmon run on the Kuskokwim this year. That was irresponsible, and offensive to people in the region who needed these limited fish for food.

People who subsist in this part of the state should have been given priority. Dunleavy’s policy has threatened a food source for people in the region, and threatened an already damaged Kuskokwim king run we should be protecting.

Second, Governor Dunleavy has let Outside Factory Trawlers kill far too many of our fish (they kill over 1,000 tons of halibut and over 500,000 Chums and Kings just in the Bering Sea). Governor Dunleavy has undermined Alaskans and our fisheries with his selections to Alaska’s voting seats on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, where Alaska has a voting majority. His nominations to the Council have damaged our fisheries, including in the Yukon-Kuskokwim region.

I would nominate Council members who’d protect our fisheries from this vastly excessive Outside Factory Trawler “bycatch”, which decimates Alaska fish and crab, and harms our fish runs.

Third, I’d grant Western Alaskans from the Y-K region a strong voice on the Board of Fish, so we can help western fisheries and the people who rely on them. We have to allow chum to return to these rivers.

I’d appoint leadership at the Department of Fish and Game who’ll listen to to local concerns, who’ll represent the whole state and all users, including subsistence users. I want a Department that is regionally diverse. I want policies that protect our salmon, other fish and crab, and that allow sustainable yield for people and families that rely on fish for food and for a living.

I believe in vibrant subsistence, commercial and sport fisheries.

What, if any, changes should be made to Alaska’s school funding system?

As a legislator I have field legislation to keep school and education support up with inflation, and to reduce class sizes so students can learn more effectively and achieve to their full potential. I think we should fund schools in time for school districts to write their budgets. Inadequate school funding harms students, harms our ability to build a strong Alaska workforce, and keeps Alaska from attracting and retaining more high quality teachers.

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James Brooks
James Brooks

James Brooks is a longtime Alaska reporter, having previously worked at the Anchorage Daily News, Juneau Empire, Kodiak Mirror and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. A graduate of Virginia Tech, he is married to Caitlyn Ellis, owns a house in Juneau and has a small sled dog named Barley. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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