Candidates in Alaska are campaigning in full swing for the November election. Some highlights:
The reappearance of Charlie Pierce
After all but disappearing from the campaign trail, Republican candidate for governor and former Kenai Mayor Charlie Pierce surprised event organizers by participating in the Homer Chamber of Commerce debate Thursday with independent former Gov. Bill Walker and former Democratic state legislator Les Gara.
During Thursday’s debate, Pierce voiced support for holding a constitutional convention and cutting the state budget. He said he opposes taxation, calling it “regressive,” but said he wants to look at Alaska’s oil tax credit structure. Gara repeated his previously stated intention to collect $1.2 billion more per year from major oil companies, similar to the Fair Share Act ballot measure rejected by voters in 2020, and to invest more in state services in an effort to reverse out-migration. Walker has emphasized trying to capture as much as possible for Alaska from the trillion-dollar federal infrastructure bill and spoke about a fiscal plan he championed when he was governor.
In August, Pierce announced he was resigning as mayor to focus on his gubernatorial campaign, but a “credible” harassment claim from a borough employee was later brought to light. His campaign has been all but silent since then.
Conservative radio host Michael Dukes, who has voiced support for Pierce, lamented the former mayor’s disappearance from the campaign trail on his Tuesday radio show. Dukes said at least Pierce had helped block the “stalking horse” of far-right Republican Rep. Chris Kurka, who finished fifth in August’s primary election. Kurka fruitlessly demanded Pierce drop out before the state’s withdrawal deadline. The top four-finishers advanced to the Nov. 8 general election.
Pierce’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment Friday about his campaign’s plans for the future. He garnered 6.6% of votes in the August primary election and was in fourth place behind Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy, Gara and Walker.
All four candidates for governor are scheduled to meet in Anchorage on Tuesday for a forum hosted by the Resource Development Council.
For Dunleavy, it will be only his second candidate forum since the launch of his re-election campaign. He previously appeared in a debate hosted by the Alaska Oil and Gas Association and canceled a planned appearance at the Alaska Chamber debate in Fairbanks to respond to fallout from a major storm in western Alaska. Dunleavy announced earlier this summer he would appear in only five forums, drawing repeated attacks from Gara and Walker.
The Bill and Les show heads to Juneau
With Pierce absent from events, and Dunleavy set to attend four debates this year, Gara and Walker have spent much of the 2022 campaign season just debating each other.From Kodiak on Monday for the fisheries debate, Gara and Walker traveled to Juneau Wednesday for a forum in a Douglas bar hosted by the state’s hospitality trade organization. Gara joked that the gubernatorial campaign had become the “Bill and Les Show.”
Both candidates voiced opposition to raising taxes on the alcohol industry and touted their hospitality cred: Walker was a bar and hotel owner as a young man in Valdez and Gara owns a small percentage of Snow City Cafe, a popular breakfast and lunch spot in downtown Anchorage. Under the state’s ranked-choice voting system, both Gara and Walker have said they would rank the other as their second-choice in an effort to topple Dunleavy, with recent polling showing the incumbent is in the lead.
Constitutional convention opponents get big windfall
Defend Our Constitution, the leading group against a constitutional convention, posted new financial disclosure documents earlier in the week, showing it had recently brought in more than $1.4 million. That represented a big jump from a month ago when the campaign had raised just over $800,000.
The bulk of that new funding came from Outside groups like the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit described by the New York Times as a left-wing dark money group, which has donated $1.4 million to the campaign in total. Another big new donor is the National Education Association, which donated $500,000. Bruce Botelho, the campaign chair for Defend Our Constitution, has said he makes no apologies for seeking money from the Lower 48 because the campaign needs enough funding to tell all Alaskans why a convention would be a mistake.
Convention YES, the leading campaign backed by conservatives for a convention, had said it had raised less $10,000 a month ago. The group is required to file its disclosure documents by Oct. 10.
Al Gross joins new fundraising effort
Former Alaska congressional candidate Al Gross, who dropped out of the race for U.S. House earlier this year without providing a full explanation after coming in third in the June special primary election, announced last week that he was involved in launching a new organization that will raise and spend funds in support of the re-election of Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Democratic U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola.
According to emails signed by Gross, the fund is intended to promote the benefits of infrastructure money coming to Alaska. The new group is working with an existing non-profit, Build Alaska’s Future, “founded to advance the national Biden-Harris Administration agenda.”
Veronica Slajer, a founding director of the organization, said it was originally set up to be “the nonprofit local partner to the administration” of Democratic President Joe Biden. She said the organization intends to continue to work after the November election.
The federal infrastructure bill, which could deliver billions to Alaska for projects including broadband infrastructure, ferries, and road repairs, was signed into law last year and supported by both of Alaska’s U.S. senators and the late Rep. Don Young, all Republicans.
Murkowski was a member of a bipartisan group of lawmakers that worked on crafting the bill. Murkowski’s Trump-backed opponent in the U.S. Senate race, Kelly Tshibaka, has said she would have opposed the bill. In the U.S. House race, both Republican candidates — former Gov. Sarah Palin and businessman Nick Begich III — have said they would have opposed the bill.
According to emails signed by Gross, the goal of the new organization is to raise $500,000 to launch a statewide digital media campaign highlighting the benefits of the infrastructure funding.
Gross, an orthopedic surgeon who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 2020 against Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan, ran this year as an independent in the special U.S. House race to replace Young before abruptly dropping out.
“While I stepped aside from the congressional race, I will continue to stay involved with initiatives making a positive impact in Alaska because I want to do what’s best for our state,” Gross wrote in the email.
Gross did not respond to a phone call seeking comment and has avoided the press since stepping away from the special U.S. House race in June. In a text message on Saturday he said he’s “excited to help with this new organization.”
“We’re happy to have him do that,” Slajer said. “I can’t imagine how hard it is to step out of something that he truly thought he could have won.”
PAC campaigns for Trump-endorsed Palin and Tshibaka
A group called Patriot Freedom PAC is campaigning for Palin and Tshibaka — both of whom endorsed by former President Donald Trump.
According to a news release from the group, they expect to spend nearly $400,000 in Alaska campaigning for the two candidates, including by flying 20 paid canvassers who have been knocking on doors in Anchorage for the two candidates, and hosting an event in Anchorage Sunday featuring an appearance by Palin and a controversial former sheriff from Wisconsin.
According to Federal Election Commission filings, the PAC was formed this year. It lists only the Anchorage event on its website. The sole contributor listed so far is California-based Caryn Borland, who gave the group $190,000 in June and appears to be a Christian musician. FEC filings show she is a regular contributor to Trump-backed candidates.
The PAC said it planned to deliver “20,000 light saber swords branded with Kelly Tshibaka’s name” in a play on her last name, which is pronounced similar to “Chewbacca,” the “Star Wars” character. But Tshibaka will not be at the event. Her campaign adviser Mary Ann Pruitt said she had preexisting campaign commitments on the Kenai Peninsula and in Fairbanks but declined to provide details.
Palin is expected to speak at the rally planned in Anchorage, complete with a mechanical bull and bouncy house. Also speaking will be David Clarke, a former sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, and prominent Trump surrogate who has made controversial statements, including supporting an unfounded conspiracy theory about a school shooting.
While Tshibaka will miss the mechanical bull, she is scheduled to appear at an Anchorage candidate forum on Monday along with other Senate candidates Murkowski and Democrat Pat Chesbro. All three will share the stage at a forum hosted by the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, after Tshibaka missed a forum in Kodiak this week to fundraise in Texas with fellow Trump endorsed candidate Blake Masters, who is running for the U.S. Senate seat in Arizona.
All four U.S. House candidates were also invited to the Anchorage Chamber forum, but only two — Republican Nick Begich and Libertarian Chris Bye — have confirmed they will attend.