JUNE, Alaska (AP) — Alaska Republican chief executive Mike Dunleavy defended his record against sharp criticism from two major rivals during a televised debate Wednesday, arguing that the state is “better off today than it was four years ago” under the board of one of those challengers.
Independent former Governor Bill Walker, who held the office from 2014 to 2018, and Democrat Les Gara disputed Dunleavy’s characterization. Gara, a former state legislator, often pitted his views against Dunleavy’s in response to questions. Walker said Dunleavy had “brought a wrecking ball to our state,” referring to cutbacks in areas such as the state’s ferry system. Walker also criticized Dunleavy for agreeing to participate in only a handful of debates ahead of the November 8 election.
Dunleavy, who faced a recall earlier in his term sparked by public anger over proposed cuts, said he has been busy in his role as governor. “How many debates do you need to get your point across?” he said.
The fourth candidate, Republican Charlie Pierce, a former mayor of Kenai Peninsula Borough, also took part.
Topics discussed during the debate, which was broadcast on TV and radio and streamed, included the annual dividend paid to residents from the state’s oil fund, abortion and Alaska’s new ranked electoral system.
Dunleavy said the dividend was “broken” under Walker and the legislature has been in “turmoil” ever since. Dunleavy said he wants to work with lawmakers on a formula that “works for the people of Alaska” and noted that during his tenure he had proposed constitutional amendments around issues like the dividend and a spending cap.
He touted as significant the $3,284 checks the resident received this year, a payout that included a $2,622 dividend from the Alaska Permanent Fund of the Oil Wealth and a $662 legislator-approved energy aid payment as part of this budget. year. The budget was approved at a time when oil prices were above $110 a barrel; more recently they were around the $90 range.
For years, dividends were paid on a formula, but in 2016, amid shortfalls, Walker reduced the amount available for checks, an action later upheld by the state’s Supreme Court. The amount has since been set by lawmakers.
In 2018, lawmakers also began using fund income, long used for dividends, to pay the government and tried to limit withdrawals. That has led to sometimes lengthy discussions about how much money should go to each cause.
Walker said he would work with lawmakers to come up with a sustainable formula. He said that given the billions of dollars in savings lawmakers have gone through in recent years, he was concerned that high dividends would put the state “in the express row for high taxes.” He said he didn’t want that.
Gara said he is in favor of reforms to Alaska’s oil tax structure, which he says would pay for a “strong” dividend.
“We can’t keep pitting the Alaskans against each other,” he said. Gara says on his website that Alaskans without “fair” oil revenues have been pitted against each other in seeking money for dividends, schools, renewable energy or other services or programs.
Pierce called the dividend an “Alaska right” and said he would work with lawmakers to reach consensus on it. He said if a constitutional convention is needed to resolve the matter, he supports it.
The Alaska Supreme Court has interpreted the right to privacy in the state constitution as the right to abortion. The candidates were asked whether that should change.
Gara said the stakes in the race are high “if you believe in the right to choose”. He emphasized his support for abortion rights and suggested that those rights could be eroded under Dunleavy.
Walker said he would defend the current interpretation and veto any legislation “that comes between a woman and her doctor”.
Dunleavy did not answer the question directly, but instead pointed to the court’s interpretation of the state constitution. “Unless that’s changed by the people of Alaska, there can’t be any other results than what we have now,” he said, accusing other candidates of “frightening.”
Dunleavy said in June, after the US Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade had stated that he plans to propose a constitutional amendment during the next legislature “to answer the question of whether or not abortion will be a constitutionally protected right.”
Pierce noted his opposition to abortion, but also acknowledged the court’s interpretation.
This year’s elections will be held under a new system, approved by voters in 2020, that replaced party primaries with open primaries and established order of vote for general elections.
Both Gara and Walker said they supported the ranked choice voting system. Dunleavy noted that the revision was approved by voters. “We will do everything we can to make it work. And we’ll do an evaluation after that and we’ll see how this new voting process works,” Dunleavy said.
Pierce said he doesn’t support ranking voting and wondered if it was “really adopted legitimately”. An audit of the measure, conducted by the Elections Department after the 2020 elections, confirmed its adoption.
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