Gara, Cook: Running together for a brighter future

Les Gara and Jessica Cook.

By Les Gara and Jessica Cook. Gara and Cook are Alaska’s only Democratic ticket for governor.

We’ve teamed up to run because you deserve a better future. When families see continued education cuts and a lack of job opportunity they lose hope. 20,000 more people have left Alaska under the current Governor than have moved here. Too many of our neighbors don’t see a bright Alaska future anymore. 

We both grew up with hardship, like many of you. And we each believe, from our own experiences, that people deserve a good education, good-paying jobs, and a living minimum wage instead of one that leaves a full-time single parent in poverty.

We believe the Permanent Fund should be protected from excessive spending so it can grow, and grow jobs and a stronger dividend. This Governor’s approach is dangerous. He’s run the state out of savings, and recklessly tried to spend almost 8% of our Permanent Fund last year. That would have been the biggest raid in Permanent Fund history. He was stopped by a coalition of Independent, Democratic and Republican legislators. 

We need to protect our second Permanent Fund, the fish in our rivers and oceans. Last year Outside factory trawlers dumped over 1,000 tons of fish, or “accidental bycatch,” dead to the bottom of the ocean – just in the Bering Sea. Caught by public anger, this Governor went into re-election mode and appointed a non-binding “task force”, with no power, to “study” the issue. He should have “studied” and acted three years ago. 

Fish bind Alaskans. We need to make sure they’re here for generations, for subsistence, sport, and commercial fishing. It’s why we disagree with the Governor on the toxic, massive open pit Pebble Mine, which he’s spent your money in court to support. We support our existing mines, and responsible development, but not a mine that risks the greatest salmon runs on earth. 

You should know more about us, and especially Jessica who recently joined this ticket to be your Lt. Governor. 

Jessica was born in Alaska. She’s been surrounded for her five decades in this world by military family, from birth through today. Despite great hardship, from losing her mother to tragic violence at three, being adopted, and then living with her grandparents, she’s worked hard her whole life. She and her husband Ed, an Air Force veteran, live in Palmer. 

Jessica has served as a leader in Alaska’s education community. She’s devoted her adult life, when she’s not being a mother of three and grandmother of five, to helping students succeed in this world. To do that she earned a master’s degree in education. And to do that better, she earned a second one. She’s responded to the call to lead by being elected by teachers as vice president of both Alaska’s statewide and Anchorage teacher’s associations. 

When she’s seen policymakers ignore problems, Jessica has called for action and gone to Juneau to advocate for our future. She’s running because our Governor has just watched problems, and often made them worse. He proposed the biggest hit on public education in state history – a cut of over a quarter billion dollars. That would have eliminated 2,600 educator and staff jobs, left students behind, and harmed this struggling economy even more. We can do better. 

Both of us have always fought for better schools and to reduce class sizes. We believe in quality voluntary pre-k to help students thrive, and to help families who face a lack of affordable day care. Alaska ranks near the bottom in the nation in access to pre-k. 

The current Governor has repeatedly, as a legislator, and as Governor, tried to eliminate state-supported classroom pre-K. He voted to do that annually as a committee chair. As Governor he’s vetoed state pre-k. 

Many of you know Les. You may know his father was killed by an intruder when he was six. And that he grew up in foster care. He worked to become an Alaska Assistant Attorney General to hold Exxon accountable after the catastrophic 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. His wife Kelly has helped us through this pandemic as a highly regarded hospital wound specialist. Les has earned state and national recognition for his volunteer and legislative work to help create more success for Alaska’s foster youth. 

Give us time to update Les’ website to what, after February 14, will be Les and Jessica’s website. You can learn more about our plan to create great schools, more than 4,000 good paying jobs, and a better future at www.lesgara.com

Les Gara is running for Governor, and served as a Legislator from 2003-2018. Jessica Cook is running for Lt. Governor. She’s a 20-year teacher, and former Vice President of the National Education Association, Alaska Chapter, and the Anchorage Education Association. She teaches at Alpenglow Elementary School. 

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