It's been a long, contentious election season, and if you're still trying to figure out where you stand on candidates or issues, you're not alone. Across Alaska, voters are deciding on how to vote Nov. 6, and the governor's race is the biggest vote residents will cast this year.
The ADN's editorial board met with both candidates for governor, and although we debated the merits of an outright endorsement, we decided that wouldn't be nearly as helpful to voters and ADN readers as a condensed summary of some of the issues our state's next governor will face. It's important to note that we are voters ourselves, and we disagree. On some issues, we were able to reach a general consensus; on others, there were strong disagreements.
Politics in our state and across the country have become hyperpartisan and tribal, which separates us and makes us less able to have necessary conversations about the direction of Alaska and the U.S. We opted to focus on issues instead of endorsing a candidate outright because we, like all Alaskans, have different priorities and values. Whatever your topics of greatest concern may be, we hope this rundown of the issues that will face the governor helps you decide where you stand when you head to the polls.
Both Mark Begich and Mike Dunleavy recognize that a balanced budget is a necessity. How they would go about balancing the budget is significantly different. Mr. Dunleavy says he will immediately institute freezes on hiring, transfers and travel when he takes office, and will focus first on reducing spending where possible, turning to revenue streams such as taxes only as a last resort, when Alaskans agree they're necessary. Mr. Begich has indicated a greater level of satisfaction with the budget as it stands, and will propose revenue measures – taxes – to cover the budget gap. He hasn't said what those taxes would look like or how much they would raise.
In the editorial board's discussion, Mr. Dunleavy emerged as our pick on the issue of the budget, primarily because of his eye toward efficiency and his reticence to implement revenue measures without Alaskans' buy-in.
The Permanent Fund
Although management of the Alaska Permanent Fund and the budget are interrelated, we considered them separately because of the candidates' sharply different plans for the fund and dividend. Mr. Dunleavy has proposed returning to the statutory language governing the PFD and, furthermore, paying a disbursement to Alaskans that would represent the difference between the past three years' dividends from the statutory formula (a payout to each eligible Alaskan of roughly $6,700). Mr. Begich, on the other hand, would shift most of the money currently in the fund's earnings reserve to its unspendable principal and seek a new constitutional amendment that would split future earnings 50/50 between education and the dividend, removing the ability of legislators to tinker with its amount each year.
Although we have reservations about some of the details of Mr. Begich's plan – chiefly his preference to codify it in Alaska's Constitution – it's preferable to Mr. Dunleavy's plan. Maximizing the dividend in the short term, while politically popular, is unsustainable. For the PFD to survive, we have to have the discipline to hold it at more sustainable levels as proposed by Mr. Begich.
Crime has been a cornerstone issue for Mr. Dunleavy, who has pledged to "completely repeal" the controversial criminal justice reform legislation known as Senate Bill 91 and increase sentences for violent crimes and felonies. Mr. Begich has also made addressing Alaska's crime problem a major part of his campaign, pledging to put greater focus on drug interdiction and federal prosecutions for dealers. He has also emphasized increasing efforts at rehabilitative justice that have been effective in lowering the number of criminals who re-offend after leaving state custody. Both candidates have pledged to increase spending for public safety, and both have been endorsed by separate public safety unions.
On the issue of crime, it's clear that both candidates understand the critical nature of dealing with Alaska's crime problem. Although their approaches would differ, both would make turning a corner on crime in Alaska their top priority.
One of the areas in which Mr. Begich and Mr. Dunleavy differ most is on the issue of education. Mr. Begich has signaled strong support for Alaska's public school system, making reforms to prepare high school and college graduates for careers in industries with high workforce needs, such as health care and the trades. He has also emphasized expanding pre-kindergarten offerings. Mr. Dunleavy, by contrast, has stated he feels the state's lagging test scores indicate greater shakeups to the state's education system are required. He has been an outspoken proponent of school choice legislation that would allow students to use state money to attend private and religious schools, and he has proposed that no child should leave third grade without being able to read at a national standard, with a similar "gatekeeper standard" for algebra in ninth grade.
Like many other Alaskans, we are sharply divided on which plan would be most beneficial for Alaska's students and families. Some feel the targeted reforms suggested by Mr. Begich were the best way to improve education outcomes, while others favor Mr. Dunleavy's vision of a system that gives parents more options for their children's education. If you believe Alaska's current education system is fundamentally sound, and would like to see it expanded, then Mark Begich is likely the better candidate for you. If you'd like to see deeper reforms and systemic changes, Mike Dunleavy's plans are likely more in line with your views.
The gas line
Both candidates say they support the development of Alaska's North Slope natural gas resources, but both expressed uncertainty about China's prominent role in Gov. Bill Walker's pipeline plan and skepticism that the federal government would approve an infrastructure project with a major stake held by a potential geopolitical adversary. Both also are rightly nervous about the risk Alaska assumes, if we move forward without equity partners. Both candidates said they can't offer concrete guidance on how they will proceed on a gas line until after they take office, as documents central to that decision-making process are shielded from public view.
The candidates are right to be skeptical of China's central role in the project and the threat it could pose to federal approval. We support their shared plan to continue with federal permitting efforts so that existing progress on the line isn't wasted. On whether Mr. Dunleavy or Mr. Begich would be better equipped to bring the state's gas to market: Much like the candidates, none of us has access to the information that would allow us to definitively make that call.
Ballot Measure 1
In another differentiating issue, Mr. Begich has indicated his support for Ballot Measure 1 which would reform Alaska's laws related to fish management and development projects. Mr. Dunleavy opposes it. If Ballot Measure 1 passes, implementation would fall to the governor and his administration, so their views on the measure could be consequential for how that process plays out.
We oppose Ballot Measure 1. It is a well-intentioned but overbroad and overcomplex initiative that would stifle Alaska's ability to emerge from economic recession. Mr. Dunleavy is the best choice to ensure that Ballot Measure 1, if passed, is implemented in a manner that balances the goals of protecting fish habitat and encouraging responsible development.
Not all of us will vote for the same candidate. This is true of our readership as well. Rather than voting for candidates based on partisan identification, we should assess how the candidates' views on the issues square with our own opinions about the best path forward for our state. At the end of the day, as former Sen. Ted Stevens said, "To hell with politics, just do what's right for Alaska."
The views expressed here are those of the Anchorage Daily News, as expressed by its editorial board, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. Current editorial board members are Ryan Binkley, Andy Pennington, Julia O'Malley, Tom Hewitt and Andrew Jensen. To submit a piece for consideration, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to email@example.com or click here to submit via any web browser.