Politics

U.S. House candidates suggest smaller role for federal funding in Alaska

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Three of the four candidates running to represent Alaska in the U.S. House said on Thursday that they oppose a recent national federal infrastructure law and are concerned about the amount of federal spending in Alaska.

The statements from Libertarian Chris Bye, Republican Sarah Palin and Republican Nick Begich III are a significant shift from the norm in Alaska, which receives more federal money than it collects in federal taxes, and where federal dollars accounted for roughly half of the state budget in the most recent fiscal year.

Traditionally, Alaska’s federal incumbents have boasted about the projects they were able to fund. Before the start of a U.S. House candidate forum on Thursday in Fairbanks, Sen. Dan Sullivan praised the infrastructure law, saying in a prerecorded message that it is “a good news story for the state” and will fund roads, highways and bridges, as well as internet infrastructure.

But shortly afterward, the three candidates present at the forum said they would have voted against the law.

“I think we should take as little federal money as possible,” Bye said. “Every dollar we take from D.C. comes with strings attached.”

“There’s a lot of crony capitalism involved in the type of funding that was handed out, the money printed out of thin air from the feds,” Palin said.

“There wasn’t enough ‘hard infrastructure’ baked into the bill. We also have this little matter of inflation,” Begich said.

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Begich, Bye and Palin each said the best way to combat inflation is to reduce the amount of federal spending.

All three are seeking to defeat incumbent Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola, who won an Aug. 16 special election by defeating Begich and Palin.

That election determined who would fill the remainder of the term left unfinished by the death of Congressman Don Young earlier this year. The winner of the Nov. 8 general election will serve a two-year term in Congress beginning on Jan. 3, 2023. Young had supported the infrastructure law.

Peltola, in Washington, D.C., was mostly absent from Thursday’s forum but participated briefly by cellphone video. She said she was between votes in the House and had to stand on a street corner because campaigning on federal property is against the law.

“That is so cool,” Palin said of Peltola’s appearance. “Mary, she always makes me smile.”

Peltola has previously offered support for the infrastructure law; she disconnected before the issue was addressed Thursday.

In Fairbanks, Palin and the other candidates were cordial to each other and refrained from the attacks that characterized campaigning before the special election.

Begich said he would rank Palin second during the Nov. 8 ranked choice vote, and Bye pointed to Begich when asked who he would pick second. He declined to make an official endorsement, saying that choice is personal.

Palin declined to say who she would rank second but urged her supporters to “rank the red,” a slogan employed by the Alaska Republican Party to encourage Republicans to rank Palin and Begich as their first and second choices.

That’s a significant change from the Aug. 16 vote, when Palin urged supporters to vote for only one candidate.

“Because I’m so opposed to the system, it’s tough for me to say anything except, ‘No, don’t comply,’” Palin said of ranked choice voting. “That’s what so many of my supporters wanted, but it’s just not realistic.”

She said she would continue to speak against ranked choice voting.

In a debate this month in Ketchikan, Palin and Begich each said they oppose congressional earmarks, which allow legislators to direct money to specific projects in their states.

Palin said Thursday that though she opposes earmarks, she supports “pass-through grants” that allow state governments and governors to determine what is funded.

She and Begich each said they support expanding federal funding for the military in Alaska, while Bye kept a harder line, saying he would support more money only if it doesn’t increase the military budget nationally.

Begich said his position on federal spending in Alaska is nuanced.

“The federal government owns more than 60% of all land in Alaska, so they have a responsibility to fund the stewardship of those lands, as long as they’re being held by the federal government,” he said.

Begich said he opposes “profligate” spending, and when asked what he considers profligate, he said, “while the line may appear murky at times, we’ve clearly crossed the Rubicon.”

Bye spoke plainly about his position, saying that he is deeply concerned about the size of the federal debt and believes it must be reduced before it impacts future generations.

“I do not want my kids enslaved for the lifestyle we have today,” he said.

Originally published by the Alaska Beacon, an independent, nonpartisan news organization that covers Alaska state government.

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