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Not sure of your vote in Alaska governor's race? Pick a team

Tara Jollie
OPINION: If you vote for the candidate and not the party, choosing can be hard. But picking a leader isn’t nearly as complicated as it seems when you start with the team. Loren Holmes photo

In Alaska we love the Iditarod: the Last Great Race. It just had the most exhilarating win in years. I always root for my favorite musher, DeeDee Jonrowe, but the Iditarod’s rough trails took their toll and she had to scratch. DeeDee always puts the well-being of her dog team first -- which is why she is my hero regardless of whether she finishes the race or not.

It is now time to move on and think about the candidates and their teams running in the governor’s race. No candidate wins by him- or herself; it is definitely a team effort.

Before I look at the candidate and his team, I have to decide which issues and what kind of leadership qualities are most important to me this election year. Only then can I look for the candidate whose skills and priorities are best aligned with what I want in a governor. I look at the campaign months like a long, drawn-out job interview.

Alaskans are fortunate because we have excellent access to the candidate's record. We may, and often do, know the candidates personally.  In that case, choosing isn’t nearly as complicated as it seems. However, it is still a process if one votes for the candidate and not the party, like I do. To pick the team I want to support, I start with its leader.

Right now we have three main candidates: Gov. Sean Parnell (Republican), Byron Mallott (Democrat), and Bill Walker (independent).  These candidates will all be in the general election assuming none drop out. There is one more ticket, so someone may toss their hat into the ring -- we’ll see. These three will all be in the general election in November leaving the primary not too relevant in this regard. So, the race is on, big time, right now.

It is never too early to start looking at each candidate and learning as much as possible about each one before stepping into the voting booth next November. So much information is at our fingertips. Each candidate has a website, newspapers articles are plentiful, and there will be a debate or two on television. One may get a chance to meet a candidate in person at a fundraiser or meet 'n' greet. And, of course, we have our family, friends and others to talk to. Alaska is such a small state.

All the candidates’ websites host their achievements, past public service, employment history and their stands on a number of issues. I try to glean as much as I can from all these resources. Anyone can Google their names, and it’s all right there.

Beyond the resume, I try to get a sense of the candidate’s character and leadership qualities. This is much harder than reviewing a list of achievements or employment history. Which candidate has demonstrated the leadership skills I want in a governor?

I ask myself, what has he said and/or done to demonstrate he is smart, trustworthy, courageous, and puts others before himself?

Will he put Alaskans first in every instance?  Who are his friends and advisors? Who are his biggest financial contributors? Most importantly, do his past acts show he has a sense of right and wrong? These three candidates all have public information available that help me discern these qualities to a great degree. Information available to everyone. It takes little effort to find if you have access to a computer.

It’s a tall order, but it’s a big job. We dare not settle. We cannot let this most important race slip under the radar like the last time.  Pick a team, get involved, and get out the vote.

Leadership, Alaskans; we need some!

Tara Jollie is the former Director of the Alaska Department of Commerce, Division of Community and Regional Affairs. After working 20 years for state government, she is now retired and blogs on rural affairs under the nickname "Leaddog" at LeaddogAlaska.net, where a version of this commentary first appeared.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch. Alaska Dispatch welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.