Teacher Jessica Cook joins Les Gara’s gubernatorial ticket

Les Gara and Jessica Cook.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Les Gara settled his ticket today when he announced Jessica Cook, a six-grade teacher at Eagle River’s Alpenglow Elementary School, as his pick for lieutenant governor.

Gara and Cook make for the only Democratic ticket currently slated for this year’s gubernatorial race, which has drawn several Republicans and a former governor. The deadline to file for state races is June 1.

In an announcement today, the team said they’re keen on providing Alaskans equal opportunities to success and criticized Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy for failing working-class Alaskans.

“I was raised with strong values and an understanding that regardless of the circumstances you were born into, everyone still deserves an opportunity to achieve their goals and be successful,” she said, later adding, “I don’t see jobs being created. I actually see jobs either disappearing or not being filled at all. I don’t see efforts from the current administration to make sure that every Alaskan working a full-time job is bringing home a living wage. You should not work a full-time job and barely make poverty.”

Cook said one of the goals of the ticket would be to return the state’s public employees to a defined benefit pension system, which she said would go a long way to encouraging Alaska’s teachers, first responders and others to stay in the state. The team also outlined support for greater deployment of rural Troopers and public safety offices, investments in education and the University of Alaska, and cuts to the state’s oil tax credit system. As for the PFD, Gara said that with changes to oil taxes people won’t have to choose between the dividend and government services. He accused Dunleavy of turning the dividend fight into a fight between the payout and state services, when it really should factor in oil taxes.

“Today, the governor is having you fight over the crumbs because he has made you poor. That is not a way to the future. A way to the future is to build the state up. We don’t have to make people fight over the dividend or schools or the university or road construction or port repairs or renewable energy,” Gara said. “You should get all of the above. People deserve a good education and a law enforcement officer in their community and if you’re not on the road system, you deserve a way to get around, and our marine communities deserve the marine highway.”

Cook is multiethnic, explaining at the conference that she is half-Black and half-white. Gara, who is white and has long represented Anchorage, said that it was important for his ticket to reflect Alaska’s diversity.

“I wanted the most-qualified person and then I wanted the ticket, if possible, to look like Alaska. We’re regionally diverse, we’re ethnically diverse,” he said. Those aren’t why I picked Jessica, but I’ll tell ya that I’d have a little knot in my stomach if it was two white men from Anchorage running for office.”

Cook said she will continue teaching at Alpenglow Elementary School through the end of the school year. She said she plans on taking a leave of absence afterwards to focus in on the race.

Traditionally, partisan gubernatorial candidates have had to wait until late in the year when their running mate was selected through their own party primary. With the implementation of the ranked-voting system, Alaska has done away with the semi-closed party primaries and instead is requiring gubernatorial candidates select their running mates ahead of the filing deadline.

That said, not everyone has settled on a ticket. Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy has not named a new running mate after breaking up with Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer. Neither has Republican challenger Charlie Pierce, the mayor of the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

Former independent Gov. Bill Walker announced Heidi Drygas, his former labor commissioner, as his running mate when he launched his campaign. Extreme-right Republican candidate Christopher Kurka, a Wasilla representative, recently announced Paul Hueper as his running mate. Libertarian Billy Toien has teamed up with with Shirley Rainbolt.

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