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Parnell's challengers, mainstream and otherwise, make their case for election

Richard Mauer
Six candidates for governor wait their turn to speak Tuesday, July 8, 2014, at a "meet and greet" luncheon sponsored by the Wasilla Chamber of Commerce. From left to right: Gerald Heikes (Republican), Carolyn Clift (Libertarian), Russ Millette (Republican), Bill Walker (independent), Byron Mallott (Democrat) and Brad Snowden (Republican). Incumbent Gov. Sean Parnell was supposed to appear in a prerecorded video, but the sound didn't work and playback stopped. Richard Mauer / Alaska Dispatch News

WASILLA — The local Chamber of Commerce invited candidates for governor to its luncheon Tuesday, and it got what it asked for: the guy in an American flag do-rag who said his first order of business would be to start impeachment proceedings against Barack HUSSEIN Obama (he emphasized the middle name), and the guy from Seward who’s been running for so long (1998) that he’s registered his operation — the Governor’s Group LLC — with the state division of corporations and lists his name there as “Governor Brad Snowden.”

Oh, and they also heard from Byron Mallott, the leading Democrat, and Bill Walker, the independent.

Gov. Sean Parnell himself didn’t show. He was at a different Chamber of Commerce, in Soldotna. He signed bills there, making it an official, state-paid trip that demonstrated the advantages of incumbency to his would-be replacements. Parnell’s campaign sent a video to Wasilla but it didn’t play, much to the delight of some catcallers in the crowd who got to shout down the governor without being impolite to him, demonstrating the advantages of absenteeism.

The six live candidates at what was officially described as a “meet and greet” — and not a debate — mingled with the business-lunch crowd at a hotel bar and restaurant on the edge of town, then gave five-minute addresses.

“People need to meet the possible person they could be voting for,” said Lyn Carden, chief executive of the Wasilla chamber.

None of the candidates is from the Mat-Su but several were able to reference a personal connection.

“My daughter is employed right here in Wasilla; she’s an M.D.,” said Libertarian Carolyn Clift, a former Anchorage teacher. “You might’ve seen me around here because I’ve been the baby sitter for the last six months.”

Walker, an Anchorage attorney who was once mayor of Valdez, said he has a place on Nancy Lake. Mallott recalled that when he was the chief executive of Sealaska Corp., the regional Native corporation for Southeast Alaska, the company became the Alaska Railroad’s biggest customer, having sand and gravel hauled from the Matanuska-Susitna Borough to Anchorage.

All the candidates talked about how they would boost economic development, with several blaming the federal government’s ownership of most of Alaska’s lands and its regulatory oversight of the state’s environment for a host of woes. Nearly all criticized Parnell for deficit budgets.

Mallott, with experience in business and government, generally stuck to the big picture. Referring to the massive growth of the local region and its struggles to keep the best of its past as uncertainty lies ahead, Mallott said, “I look at the richness, the diversity, the places that all of you come from, and I say, it is the Matanuska Valley in many ways is the experiment, is the cauldron, is the incredible mecca of Alaska’s future.”

Walker stuck more to practicalities, stressing his background in gas and oil matters.

“We should have the cheapest energy in the nation in Alaska — we have the most expensive. We are the most energy-rich state in the nation,” Walker said. “We have got to bring the cost of energy — immediately, mid-term, long-term.”

He also criticized Parnell for not accepting federal Medicaid expansion, which would cover between 10,000 and 40,000 uninsured Alaskans and boost jobs at no cost to the state. In fact, he said, Alaska taxpayers have already paid for expansion in their federal income taxes.

Russ Millette, a tea party Republican who was ousted by the party establishment from his elected role as state chairman before he could begin to serve, promised to balance the state’s budget in his first year or two in office. As for the referendum on the primary ballot on whether to keep the new oil tax cuts or revert to the old system, Millette said he opposed both, because both had elements of progressivity. But it’s unclear how much he knew about either of the regimes.

“What we need is a flat tax that everybody understands and doesn’t fill up more than one page of a sheet of paper and that a common man or common woman like you and I can understand, instead of 1,500 pages or 2,000 pages, or however long these tax bills are.”

The final version of Senate Bill 21, the tax measure up for repeal in the Aug. 19 primary, is 30 pages long.

Clift, the Libertarian candidate, said she was for reduced government and increased personal rights.

“I am dedicated to social freedoms. I think that we’ve had a lot of stuff happening in the last few years in Alaska to curtail our rights, sometimes called women’s rights, and I’m a strong advocate of those rights,” she said.

The man with the American flag on his head was Gerald Heikes, a self-described “ne’er-do-well” and “licensed minister” who promised to create an “Alaska Republic Oil and Gas Co-op” that would take $3.5 billion from the Permanent Fund and build a new refinery near “Glenallen” — he spelled the name in his campaign literature short one “n.” With that refinery and state intervention in other refineries, premium gasoline anywhere in Alaska would cost $1, he said.

“The first thing I would do (as governor) is phone (Rep.) Don Young, tell him to get ahold of John ‘Happy Hour’ Boehner and say the governor of Alaska is going to start proceeding on the impeachment of Barack Hussein Obama,” Heikes said. “I’m just another guy that’s fed up with the system and the way it’s going and people not having any backbone to do anything about it.”

Parnell was at the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce signing bills that were sponsored by Kenai legislators. He sent a video address to Wasilla, but when a chamber official tried to play it, there was no sound.

As Parnell gesticulated on the screen and the official fiddled with the computer and projector, a man shouted, “That’s loud enough — it’s OK!”

“He’s got four minutes left!” a woman called.

With that, the video was turned off and the live meeting continued.