Challengers attack Gov. Dunleavy for missed debates, including the latest Monday at the Anchorage Chamber

Gov. Mike Dunleavy on Monday continued to come under fire from his leading challengers for missing debates, including Monday’s lunchtime event organized by the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce.

Dunleavy has attended two of the five debates he said he would attend in an announcement in early August, and two more will be coming up this week. Dunleavy missed the Sept. 21 Alaska Chamber debate he had planned to attend because he was touring storm damage in Western Alaska from the remnants of Typhoon Merbok, a move his challengers called appropriate at the time.

But Democratic opponent Les Gara and independent Bill Walker said on Monday that the governor’s decision to avoid attending several other debates and joint appearances shows he doesn’t want to directly answer questions from voters.

“If you don’t want to listen to people, or answer questions they’re concerned with, you shouldn’t be running for governor,” Gara said.

Gara, who said Dunleavy has missed more than 10 debates or forums, attacked the governor on social media following Monday’s absence. He said the governor doesn’t want to talk about policies that include creating the “worst education & mental health crisis in Alaska history.”

Dunleavy announced his schedule far in advance because as an incumbent facing extreme demands on his time, said Andrew Jensen, his campaign spokesman. He said the five he chose reach the biggest audience possible.

“What was the governor doing today? He was being the governor,” Jensen said.


Dunleavy had a 1 p.m. news conference that included an update on the search for a Soldotna man wanted on charges of arson and attempted murder after a residential fire over the weekend. The governor also introduced his policy proposals to steeply increase penalties for dealing in illicit drugs laced with deadly fentanyl, Jensen said.

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Dunleavy has so far faced his opponents in debates before two prominent industry groups, the Alaska Oil and Gas Association last month, and the Resource Development Council last week.

On Wednesday at 7 p.m., the governor plans to attend Debate for the State 2022 hosted by Alaska Public Media and Alaska’s News Source, Jensen said.

On Saturday morning at 9:45 a.m., Dunleavy plans to attend the Alaska Federation of Natives forum at its annual convention at the Dena’ina Center, Jensen said. The forum also includes candidates for the U.S. House and Senate races.

Bruce Bustamante, president of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, has known for a long time that the governor would not attend Monday’s debate.

“We invite everyone, but we certainly understand when candidates have conflicts,” he said.

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Walker, Dunleavy’s predecessor, said the missed appearances are disrespectful to voters, who don’t have a chance to directly ask the governor questions when he doesn’t show up.

“I don’t think he’s overconfident, I think he’s uncomfortable answering questions,” he said of Dunleavy.

“Dodging debates is shameful,” Walker’s campaign said on Twitter. “Dunleavy refuses to face accountability and can’t speak off-script and he knows it.”

Jensen, one of several campaign staffers who are volunteering for the campaign while also working for the governor’s office, said Dunleavy hears concerns and ideas directly from Alaskans every day by doing his job.

“So the idea that somehow we’re afraid to take questions is completely belied by the facts,” Jensen said.

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Alex DeMarban

Alex DeMarban is a longtime Alaska journalist who covers business, the oil and gas industries and general assignments. Reach him at 907-257-4317 or alex@adn.com.