All four candidates appeared at the forum: Democrat Jerry McCune and Republicans Louise Stutes, Carol Austerman and Richard Walker.
Although the candidates didn’t take too many jabs at each other during the course of the forum, and even agreed on a few of the questions, the first question did draw criticism.
Moderator Jerome Selby asked what distinguishes the candidates from opponents in terms of fiscal responsibility.
Stutes said she didn’t know about McCune’s fiscal position, but her and Austerman’s voting record from their time on the Kodiak Island Borough Assembly showed their differences, mentioning a contract between the borough and the borough’s attorney.
“It was a contract, (the borough attorney) wrote it up, she signed it, she came back, wanted another $7,500 for that contract,” Stutes said. “I voted no. Ms. Austerman voted yes. I could give several other instances, but we only have two minutes.”
For Walker, Stutes said she believes the city council, of which Walker is a member, is overspending. She mentioned the council undergoing the process of hiring an assistant city manager, saying she believed the city was overstaffed.
Walker responded saying fiscal responsibility means making sure services continue and said he was proud of the projects the city has completed. “I’m 100 percent behind keeping projects going and still trying to do them the best we can with the money we can.”
Austerman said fiscal responsibility is spending money more wisely and getting the most out of the money available.
In response to Stutes, Austerman said they definitely had different voting records and that the fiscal irresponsibility was Stutes’ when she sued the borough shortly after being elected. “That probably cost the borough and the taxpayers sitting in this room a lot of money,” Austerman said.
When asked about Ballot Measure 1, Walker said he would vote no while the other three all said they’d vote yes. Walker said it was a “major jobs bill” and that a teamsters union representative had told him they’d been asked for an additional 400 teamsters on the slope recently.
Austerman said she’d vote yes, but said that neither the old tax structure known as ACES nor the new tax structure commonly referred to as SB21 or MAPA were perfect and said she’d support a tax structure that was a combination of the two.
McCune and Stutes agreed that it needed to go back and receive more work.
All four candidates said the state needs to find new revenue sources when it came to funding education, municipal revenue sharing and fishery research with declining oil revenue.
The candidates also agreed on the most important issue facing youth education: funding.
McCune said he’d like to see the Base Student Allocation increased. Stutes said providing funding and accountability for it were important. Walker said he would support putting some other projects aside or creating a permanent fund for education. Austerman said she wanted to work on eliminating unfunded mandates of reporting requirements handed down by the government.
The final question for all the candidates regarded how they would work with non-coastal communities, who are the majority in the house.
All four agreed on the importance of working together. McCune said it would require compromise. Austerman said it was important to find win-wins for both sides, and she and Stutes both said it would be a “give and take.” Walker said it was important to listen to everyone and find what was best for Alaska.
Selby ended the forum by saying, “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain about the outcome.”
Voters go to the polls for the primary election on August 19 to decide which of the three Republican candidates will go against McCune in the general election on November 4.
Contact Julie Herrmann at firstname.lastname@example.org.