Debra Call focuses in on crime, substance abuse and rural economic development: Interview

Debra Call (center) during a 2018 campaign visit to Dillingham. (Photo courtesy her campaign)

The bulk of this interview with Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor Debra Call took place on Oct. 15, the day before now-former Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott resigned and upended the race. This interview unfortunately got lost in the mix.

We were since able to get an update (provided as a written answer, while the original interview was in-person).

TMS: What do you think about the changes to the race?

CALL: “It was powerful to sit in the room at AFN and watch Alaskans unite together to put Alaska first. Mark and I have been humbled and excited by the enthusiasm and momentum that Alaskans are giving to our campaign. We have heard from so many Alaskans who want to be a part of our positive campaign as we work to build a better future for all Alaskans. If we continue to harness this excitement, working longer and harder every day from now until November 6th we will protect Alaska from Mike Dunleavy’s dangerous agenda and move Alaska forward together.”

The original interview:

TMS: You’ve been on the campaign trail for a few months now. What are you hearing and what are some of the issues that are becoming important to the race?

Debra Call (Courtesy the campaign)

CALL: “I’ve been hearing some good things. I’ve been hearing that they’re glad Mark is in the race and they’re very supportive. That’s when I’ve been travelling to Kodiak, as well as Bethel, and just got back from Kotzebue. What I’ve been hearing in Kotzebue is the fact that there are state offices like the DMV that have been closed due to budget cuts. And you know what that means? That means they can’t get an ID to travel on the plane unless it’s current, and when you can’t get on the plane for medical reason or any other reason you’re pretty much stuck where you’re at. There’s a lot of concern about the stretch of state services, and the more critical ones are starting to show. When we cut back on services, rural Alaska gets hit the hardest. We’ve always got multiple offices in urban areas, but there’s only one office in rural areas.”

TMS: One of the biggest issues in this race has been crime and crime driven by substance abuse. How would the Begich and Call administration be different on this?

CALL: “As far as crime and access to services, what I bring is the experience of serving on the Cook Inlet Tribal Council’s board of directors where the core–or 80 percent–of the reason of the crime is because of substance abuse. If that 80 percent of crime, if services were available to help deal with that issue from opioids to meth to heroin, that would take care of a lot of it. The fact that we have very few treatment centers that meet the needs that are being created by the abuse of those chemicals. Serving on Cook Inlet Tribal Council, we worked with local tribes Eklutna as well as Knik and we established an in-patient facility in Eklutna on Thunderbird Falls Road. It’s a new facility that opened in August and it’s a new facility to serve those with very serious substance abuse issues. There’s also an outpatient service based in Wasilla, where the Mat-Su Health Foundation donated a million dollars to that. Just having that experience and knowing that that’s a core of a lot of the crime and having services to take care of that should help.

“The correctional officers that we visited with are in a very awkward position. They receive an inmate who has these substance abuse issues, but that is not their job to deal with that. When they see the withdrawal and the detox, they do not have the skills or the education to know what to do to help that inmate in their care.

“There needed to be some leadership on that issue. You can have all these laws and rules and regulations, but if you don’t back that up with resources and partnerships and work with organizations that can provide those services then you’re only expanding the problem when you go through the process with no resources to actually fix the issue. That’s basically what happened. There was no fixing of the drug abuse problem and no facilities and no direction, so as a result we have a revolving door of criminals who go in and go back out. They just passed a bill and then they didn’t provide the services to take care of the problems that the bill was supposed to be doing.”

TMS: You’re the only woman on one of the three main gubernatorial tickets. Should that be a factor for voters?

CALL: “Well, I’m pro-choice. I don’t feel anybody else’s perspective has control over what I want to do with my body. I don’t care if it’s religious, personal, historical, whatever. The point of it is we don’t do that to men, why is it only for women. We talk about that on the national level, but on the local level it’s only the governor and Mark believes in pro-choice, too. Should Roe v. Wade be struck down, it’s only the governor that can stop that going forward. We need that, and it’s a fundamental belief that we’re valued members of society but for some reason we’re treated like second class because we have to be told what to do with our own body. That doesn’t make any sense to me, it never has.”

TMS: Different administrations have taken different routes in terms of the roll of the lieutenant governor. If elected, what are the priorities you’d like to see for the lieutenant governor’s office?

CALL: “I see it in two areas: rural economic development. I’ve worked in that for a number of years, and the contacts that I have throughout rural Alaska is because of my work in rural Alaska doing economic development, business technical assistance and helping to get small business financing. That’s an important element that I don’t think we really spend a lot of time on, but it’s critical for rural Alaska to be healthy and for the state in turn to be healthy. The other part would be in workforce development, I spent 15-20 years in workforce development and I previously chaired the Alaska Job Training Council and we were able to make the job referral as well as the job postings more efficient.”

TMS: When it comes to rural Alaska, we’ve heard some politicians—often Republicans—question the value of rural Alaska, asking ‘Why would anyone want to live there’ and proposing to slash services in these areas. What’s your response to that?

CALL: “I think it’s extremely insensitive and it shows there’s a lack of awareness that Alaska Natives living in rural Alaska is no different than someone wanting to live in Los Angeles. It’s a different lifestyle, it’s home and it’s where family is. A majority of people like having family close by, as well as a history that they’ve always known with their family in the community and getting to subsist off the land. That’s the most important part, everything from berry picking to hunting to fishing and travelling in the area. There’s a number of stories that I’ve heard in rural Alaska–I’ll call them adventures. There’s lots of stories, lots of activity and for someone who hasn’t been to rural Alaska that is exactly the kind of question they’d ask: ‘Why do you want to live here?’ It’s because that’s not the life that they know, that’s not the life that maybe they’re interested in, but if they did spend some time out there they would hear this and then understand.”

TMS: Bouncing back to your plans for economic development in rural Alaska, how do you go about doing that?

CALL: “I talk about it from a point of utilizing a community’s strengths. For example, when we worked at CITC, we took the culture of a community and said ‘How can we help you develop an opportunity to create a business out of this?’ We did a tourism project with Savoonga and Gambell, where the National Geogrpahic ships would be coming up and the birders would be around. They would do a tour, buy the artwork and it would give them an opportunity to not only sell and educate, but it gave the visitor an opportunity to visit a unique Alaska village with a very unique Alaska experience that they could not get in Anchorage, could not get in New York City and they cannot get it in a museum.”

TMS: Lastly, the Republican ticket has gotten plenty of flack for skipping out on candidate forums—particularly when it comes to ones hosted by minority groups like Alaska Native groups and the NAACP—what do you think about that?

“It’s important to be there because what other way are you going to communicate your philosophies, your long-term goals that you see for Alaska, your ideas on issues. You have to have a dialog and when you don’t show up, you’re not sharing what your vision looks like. I think that’s a missed opportunity, but I also think it’s a way to avoid controversy by mis-stepping. If you don’t have confidence in vision going forward, maybe you shouldn’t be there.”

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