Former Anchorage Democratic Rep. Les Gara announced today that he’s formed an exploratory committee to run for governor in 2022, making him the first high-profile Democratic candidate to do so.
Gara, who left the Legislature after not seeking re-election in 2018, set his sights on Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy in his announcement this afternoon.
“I want a state that provides real opportunity for people, that creates jobs and that offers students and workers the skills and quality education they deserve. We should help people succeed because it’s right, because it will help end our recession, and because it will grow our businesses with Alaska workers,” Gara said in the prepared announcement. “Governor Dunleavy has ‘worked’ to dismantle what gives people opportunity and dignity. … We should have a state people want to live in, not move from.”
Gara is the first significant challenger to come forward against Dunleavy, who will face re-election under the new election system approved by voters in 2022. Instead of the typical primary system, the gubernatorial election will be conducted in a group primary with the top-four finishers advancing to a general election contest that will be conducted with ranked-choice voting. The new system would give room to more candidates to run, which may include former independent Gov. Bill Walker, who has also signaled interest in 2022.
According to a search on APOC, Gara has not yet filed a letter of intent or registered as a candidate that would allow him to begin fundraising or spending on the race.
In the Legislature from 2003 to 2019, Gara was a solid progressive voice who advocated strongly for education, social safety net programs and, particularly, for the foster care system. Gara was raised in the foster care system from an early age after his father was murdered, and has been a strong advocate for foster programs.
“I’ve lived the struggle many Alaskans face, and worked my way through high school, college and law school. My background taught me that all people should have a right to opportunity, regardless of whether they are born to wealth and privilege,” said Gara.
Among Dunleavy’s budget vetoes announced last week was the elimination of funding for the Circles of Support program, which works at reuniting children with their families, and other programs related to the state Office of Children’s Services.
“Gov. Dunleavy’s vetoes literally leave children and youth in a foster care system he’s letting crumble. They stop youth from being reunified with their parents. Cruel as cruel can be. The vetoed ‘Circles of Support’ funds are successfully used to reunify families, a supposed bi-partisan priority,” Gara tweeted last week. “AK Family & Youth Services, for example, has reunified 80% of the families referred to them by OCS w these funds. If the Gov gave OCS the support it needs, which he sadly hasn’t, they’d also be used for what that my last reform bill also requires – intensive casework with troubled families to prevent youth from ever coming into foster care. Care about Alaska’s kids, youth & families in crisis much?”
As far as policy goals, Gara said he wants to end the per-barrel tax credits that have allowed oil companies to reduce their tax bills, opposes Pebble Mine and wants to see greater investment in capital projects and education.