Politics

Former Anchorage state Rep. Les Gara joins race for Alaska governor

Former Alaska state Rep. Les Gara has filed to run for governor in the 2022 election as a Democratic candidate, he said Friday morning.

Gara, a Democrat from Anchorage, joins Republican incumbent Mike Dunleavy, independent Bill Walker and Libertarian Billy Toien in the race.

Under Alaska’s new election system, all candidates — regardless of party — compete in the same August primary. The top four finishers advance to the November general election, where a winner is chosen by ranked-choice voting.

The new election system also requires a governor and lieutenant governor to run together on a single ticket. Gara said he hasn’t settled on a running mate but would prefer a woman.

“I’d like this to be a diverse ticket,” he said, referring to both regional diversity and gender diversity.

“I think there are a lot of really strong, bright women who can do the job really, really well,” he said.

The deadline to formally register a ticket with the Alaska Division of Elections isn’t until June 1.

In the written statement announcing his candidacy, he said he is running because he is dissatisfied with Dunleavy’s actions in office.

“Alaskans deserve better than a governor who’s attacked our schools, damaged our University and emptied $17 billion in state savings as a state senator and Governor. I want an Alaska people can believe in again, where we create good paying jobs and provide good job training instead of taking it away. As a fisherman I want to protect our wild salmon and trout from the toxic Pebble Mine. Gov. Dunleavy has sided with foreign mine owners instead of our own commercial, sport and subsistence fishermen and women,” Gara said.

Dunleavy’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

“Heidi and I welcome Les to the race,” Walker said, “and have always enjoyed working with him. We have always admired his commitment to helping our foster youth.”

Gara, born in New York City, grew up in foster care after his father was murdered. He attended Boston University and Harvard Law School, coming to Alaska in 1988 after receiving his law degree.

He worked for Alaska Supreme Court Justice Jay Rabinowitz and as an assistant attorney general before being elected to the state House in 2002. He represented an Anchorage district until 2018, when he left the House.

During his tenure, he became known for efforts to improve foster care and the Office of Children’s Services in Alaska. After leaving the Legislature, he helped steer the unsuccessful ballot measure that sought to increase taxes on older North Slope oilfields.

If he were governor now, Gara said, he would add campaign finance to the agenda of the special legislative session underway in Juneau. A federal appeals court decision may erase most limits on direct campaign contributions for state races.

“I don’t think money should be able to buy elections. And I’d like big money out of politics,” he said.

He criticized Dunleavy for failing to address the issue in the special session.

Legislators are bound by the agenda set by the governor unless they call a special session of their own, and thus far, they have failed to gather the needed votes.

Senate Democrats asked Dunleavy for permission to consider campaign finance, but he turned down that request, saying it could be addressed in January, when the regular session begins.

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