Republican Mike Dunleavy and Democrat Mark Begich met head-to-head for the second time in Fairbanks on Wednesday for the Alaska Chamber of Commerce’s gubernatorial forum. The two hit on some of the greatest hits of the race—trading barbs over budget details, forum no-shows and the PFD—as well as touching on some issues local to Fairbanks.
With less than two weeks from election day there were a handful of new takeaways from the race, including some slight shifts in positioning after independent Gov. Bill Walker suspended his campaign.
Begich and Dunleavy go head to head again tonight when they take the biggest stage of the race tonight at the Debate for the State, a televised debate put on by KTUU and Alaska Public Media. The debate will go on tonight at 7 p.m. and play on KTUU, public television, various radio stations and online.
Here’s a the takeaways from Wednesday’s event:
It’s still all about controlling the size of government and looking for efficiencies for Dunleavy when it comes to specifics on his budget. Dunleavy has been frustratingly vague about his plans for the state budget and continued his evasive maneuvering on Wednesday.
Though public-private partnerships will likely be a key focus for the former state senator, as Dunleavy continued to tout the concept of inviting private investment—and management—of the Port of Alaska.
“I know for a fact there are private equity firms that would love to invest in that port,” said Dunleavy, who’s former financial executive brother, Francis Dunleavy, has helped bankroll part of an independent expenditure campaign backing his candidacy.
Begich continued to talk up his six-year capital project plan that would be funded with a general obligation bond package put to the voters on a “mail-in ballot” (interesting).
The former U.S. Senator said his capital project plan, which is also light on the specifics, could be part of the solution for the Fairbanks area’s high heating prices and poor wintertime air quality,which was one of the key local topics at the event.
The Fairbanks area is currently working on building out increased infrastructure for natural gas, but one of the major issues will be converting over home heating appliances to the new source of energy. Begich said something to help financing natural gas conversions could certainly be part of the bond package.
Dunleavy’s response to a recent local vote to discard local enforcement of air quality and hand it over to the state just as the feds are considering sanctions against the area was to suggest a game of chicken with the feds, doubting they were all that serious.
“Mike, I will tell you those are real fines,” Begich interjected, suggesting that the solution when it comes to the sanctions is to work with the feds and ask for an extension.
Both agreed that one of best solutions was to get low-cost energy in the form of natural gas to the Interior. They however were split on the leading project that’s could be capable of doing that.
Like Dunleavy, Begich has generally been skeptical about Walker’s deal with China to build a natural gas pipeline off the North Slope, worrying about the concession Walker made and potential detriments to state hire, but Begich softened his tone on the AKLNG project at the Wednesday forum.
I support it, I’ve supported the governor he’s done a heckuva job in bringing it to what I consider the 10-yard line of the opponent’s field,” he said. “Question is getting it over the goalline. I think there’s an opportunity to do this and I think it’s going to be a lot of work. … We don’t have all the information because some of it is confidential. But I do think this has an opportunity.”
He went on to say that he wouldn’t make major changes to the Walker’s team that has been guiding the negotiations so far.
“Now working with China we gotta make sure we keep those relationships those are important because you just don’t get those relationships overnight,” he said. “Those were built over time so we have to utilize the people in the operations today because they built these relationships.”
Dunleavy maintained his skepticism about the project.
When it came to a lightning round yes-or-no on taxes, Dunleavy was a “no” to any and all new forms of income. Begich, on the other hand, said he was supportive of either an income tax designed to largely capture income from out-of-state workers or a seasonal income tax.
The two also sparred over the salmon habitat initiative. Dunleavy got a lot of applause from the business crowd for stating he was a firm no on the initiative. Begich, who has said he’s supportive of the measure, didn’t focus much on the merits of the measure but instead his ability to make it workable if it passes because he’s better-suited to work with the Democratic chamber(s) of the Legislature.
And finally, Halloween costumes are difficult for the towering Dunleavy (because of his height, which he says is 6’7″), but if he had to pick one it’d be an “honest broker.” Booo. At least he was more creative when it came to suggesting a costume for Begich: “I think Mark would be good as Dracula, sucking the lifeblood out of Alaska.”
For the record, Begich suggested for himself as Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man in the World because he’s been running the most interesting campaign. It seemed that Begich did have a suggestion for Dunleavy, but didn’t get to offer it. The Invisible Man? Or perhaps a Greek titan?