Alaska Congressman Don Young and his challenger, Ethan Berkowitz, clashed Thursday over whether Young is a bully whose conduct is getting old or a hard-nosed fighter the state needs in Washington, D.C.
"If you want to be persuasive, you cannot just confront people who you disagree with, you cannot bully and intimidate them into agreeing with you," Berkowitz said in a debate with Young. "You need to find common ground, you need to find consensus."
Berkowitz, a Democrat, told the crowd at the downtown Anchorage Marriott he would "never yell at you, never embarrass you," if elected.
The Republican Young countered he has the "fire in my stomach" to fight and work for the state.
"You know, Ethan said I was confrontational, I'm not. I'm one of the nicest, kindest persons in the world," Young said. "But when you mess with the state you're messing with me."
The debate comes as what appears to be a close contest between Young, Alaska's lone member of the U.S. House since 1973, and Berkowitz enters its final two and a half weeks. Berkowitz is campaigning on change and saying there would be benefits to Alaska having a member of the Democratic majority. Young says he's always been effective no matter what party is in the majority and that Berkowitz would just add to the power of Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
They'll appear together in at least five more debates or forums before the Nov. 4 election.
The Resource Development Council and trade groups representing the logging, mining, and oil-field support industries sponsored Thursday's Young-Berkowitz debate. Audience members were given hand-held controls to signal if they liked what they were hearing. Nearly 53 percent identified themselves as Republicans, compared to about 12 percent Democrats, and Young consistently scored far higher than Berkowitz on his answers.
Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, a Democrat who is running against Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, was also at the event. Stevens was testifying at his trial in Washington, D.C., so he wasn't there. An employee of the Resource Development Council read Stevens' answers to questions submitted beforehand.
"I hope as the election moves forward in the next three weeks we'll have some opportunity, Ted Stevens and I, to have a true debate and debate the issues," said Begich, who called Thursday for Stevens to debate him on the radio while the senator is still on the East Coast.
The Stevens campaign has agreed to participate in at least two debates in Alaska at the end of the month after the trial is over.
The Young-Berkowitz debate was big on resource issues. Asked what his approach would be to bills limiting carbon emissions, Young said he doesn't see the proposed solutions as helping, and they could hurt.
"I am one of those people that believe we have maybe a climate change. But I also believe it is not all our responsibility. I believe in fact that this will occur regardless of what we do," he said.
Berkowitz said the idea behind proposals dealing with carbon is people who create the cost pay for it. He said it can be made to work and pushing the problem to the next generation is wrong.
"I think if we do the carbon issue in the right way it can be a great opportunity for Alaska. Because if we can show the way to producing gas as opposed to some of the hydrocarbons we're importing, it's going to be an incentive and an asset in terms of developing a natural gas pipeline," Berkowitz said.
Berkowitz worked to tie the recent congressional bank bailout, which Young voted against, to developing resources. Berkowitz said he would have reluctantly supported the bill, and the credit crisis has screwed down tight the investment markets needed to finance resource development.
"Those who opposed the bailout bill will have done more to stop resource development in this state than all the environmentalists lined up together," he said.
Young said he's proud of his no vote on the bailout.
"I'm not going to indebt my 14 grandkids. I'm not going to let one person have that huge ability to invest or buy things that I have nothing to do about, and give me five days to pass a bill," he said.
Young said the obstacle to resource development is government permitting, not the availability of money from the markets. Those with a good business plan will be able to get investment, he said.
Find Sean Cockerham online at adn.com/contact/scockerham or call him at 257-4344.
Debates and forum where Don Young and Ethan Berkowitz are scheduled to appear.
OCT. 20 -- Alaska Association of Secondary School Principals forum Sheraton Anchorage at 3:30 p.m.
OCT. 26 -- KTUU Channel 2 evening debate
OCT. 27 -- Anchorage Chamber of Commerce noon forum
OCT. 29 -- Kenai-Soldotna Chamber of Commerce noon debate at the Kenai Merit Inn.
OCT. 30 -- Alaska Public Broadcasting debate at 8 p.m. in the KAKM television studios.