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Forrest Dunbar answers questions about issues in the 2014 election for U.S. House

  • Author: Alaska News
  • Updated: July 8, 2016
  • Published October 14, 2014

Forrest Dunbar - Democrat

Office: U.S. House. Other candidates: Don Young (R), Jim McDermott (L).

1. Why are you running for office?

Alaska needs more effective and ethical representation in Washington, D.C. Our current Congress is dysfunctional, and our current Congressman has lost his influence. Though I grew up in rural Alaska—raised with rural Alaskan values—I also had the opportunity to live and work in Washington, DC. I have the experience and network in DC to get things done for our state and will fight every day for the working Alaskan families I grew up with.

2. Alaska has the highest rate of welfare recipients among all 50 states. What steps would you take to reduce that figure?

We must create jobs to provide a pathway off of these programs. Though traditional "welfare" ended in the '90s (replaced by "Temporary Assistance for Needy Families"), we can still do more to promote self-sufficiency. Examples include raising the minimum wage and fighting to develop the fishing, high-tech, and oil and gas industries. At the same time, we must have a social safety net available for those of us—such as veterans afflicted with PTSD and other mental health issues—who are suffering.

3. Alaskans often criticize federal overreach; at the same time, the federal government is as important as oil to the economy, supporting about one-third of the state's jobs and pumping billions of dollars annually into Alaska. Would you advocate more or less federal spending in Alaska? What programs would you reduce or increase to achieve your goal?

The federal government owns more than 60% of Alaska's land. That, coupled with Alaska's unique geostrategic location, means that the Feds will always spend a considerable amount here. The Alaskan delegation has a duty to see that Alaska's interests are served in D.C. When funds are available for rural Alaska, or for our military bases, or for basic infrastructure that the rest of the nation has already received, I will fight to see that those funds come into the state and are spent wisely.

4. What are three bills you will introduce or three efforts you will undertake -- or some combination -- to improve the state's economy?

1. Continued development of oil and gas on the Slope, including contingent development of ANWR; allow for directional drilling in ANWR contingent on protecting the food security of the Gwich'in people.

2. Investment in human capital and high-tech infrastructure to create the jobs of the future. This includes a world-class education system to attract young families.

3. Dropping the bills Don Young supports that help Pebble Mine go forward. We must protect the real business of Bristol Bay: fishing.

5. What are three bills you will introduce or three efforts you will undertake -- or some combination -- to address social issues in Alaska such as the high rates of suicide, sexual abuse and domestic violence?

1. Remove the "Alaska Exception" in the Violence Against Women Act so that tribes can be brought in more fully as partners against domestic abuse.

2. Fully fund mental health programs, especially those targeting the offender population as they reintegrate into society.

3. Recognize that substance abuse is a public health crisis, not just a law enforcement problem, and that treatment is proven more effective than jail time in actually reducing addiction and recidivism.

6. What authority should Alaska Native tribes and villages have over civil and criminal justice matters, and what rights should they have to regulate hunting and fishing on native land?

I support increased local governance. In much of Alaska that means tribal organizations, who are well positioned to take on more responsibility. I welcome the continued development of tribal courts, and an end to the "Alaska exception" that prevents tribes from protecting their members against intimate-partner violence. To his credit, Don Young has introduced a bill to expand the role of Ahtna Inc. and related tribal groups in the co-management of resources. I support those and similar efforts.

7. Would you take steps to change or repeal the Affordable Care Act? What would the changes be? If you favor repeal, what would you replace it with?

The ACA needs reform, but I support its core principle: protecting those with preexisting conditions. Before the ACA I couldn't get private insurance. I had a preexisting condition from a sports injury. I was forced into a state-run, high-risk plan that only worked if I got hit by a bus in JUST the right way. Today I get insurance through the Army, but if I didn't, I'd be on the exchanges. Repealing the ACA would deny insurance to thousands of Alaskans with preexisting conditions. That's wrong.

8. Should the United States have "boots on the ground" in the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Iraq? If not, what are the circumstances under which we should consider such action? And what other action should the U.S. take against Sunni militants in the Middle East?

As a member of the Alaska Army National Guard, I closely follow talk of "boots on the ground" in Iraq. While the rise of ISIS cannot be ignored, the American people are clearly opposed to renewed, large-scale ground operations in the region. As with the Northern Alliance in the early days of the Afghan War, our best strategy is a combination of close air support, shared intel, and limited Special Forces operations to assist our allies—primarily the Kurds—in hunting down and destroying ISIS.

9. What role do human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases play in climate change?

Climate change is real, and the overwhelming scientific consensus is that humans are a major cause. You would have to believe in a worldwide conspiracy to deny it. I don't subscribe to that kind of conspiratorial thinking. Here in Alaska, we have villages falling into the ocean. We have melting permafrost. We have increasing paralytic shellfish poisoning. We are the canary in the coalmine, and the first step to solving our problems is to admit that human-caused climate change is real.

10. What legislation currently in Congress comes closest to the policy you would advocate for dealing with climate change?

The Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2014 would be a great tool to combat climate change. Rather than imposing new regulations, the act aims to incentivize innovation. Technology is the key. The bill provides a rebate system for businesses that purchase efficient machinery and also creates a program to alert schools of existing programs to reduce building energy costs. We need to innovate, not regulate, and Alaska can be a leader in alternative energy and energy efficiency.

11. Coastal erosion is a serious issue in a number of rural Alaska villages, with discussions about relocating some communities. Do you believe this is appropriate or realistic? Explain.

In some cases, it will be the appropriate solution. However, whatever is done the first priority must always be listening to and working with the local community. Global climate change has accelerated the erosion process in many areas, and the science is overwhelmingly clear that human activity is a large contributing factor. As Congressman, I will work to ensure that federal funds are available for Alaskan coastal villages that are bearing the brunt of decisions made in the Lower 48.

12. How important a priority is reducing the federal deficit? Explain.

Reducing the deficit is a high priority. Fiscal responsibility is vital in order to have a functioning government. Debt-financed tax cuts for the very wealthiest, like those supported by Congressman Young in 2003 and today, are irresponsible—the opposite of fiscally conservative. It is equally important that we are not reckless in our cuts. There are smart cuts and dumb cuts; the sequester was designed to be so dumb that no one could allow it to go into place. Of course, Congress did just that.

13. If you had to give the current Congress a letter grade, A through F, what grade would you give and why?

An "F," especially the House of Representatives. There's a reason that less than 15 percent of Americans have a favorable view of Congress; by almost any standard, we have one of the worst Houses in history—certainly the worst in modern times. Any House that shuts down the government, supports Citizens United, kills immigration reform, and votes for the Ryan Budget—which turns Medicare into a voucher program, and which Don Young voted for four times in a row—needs to be tossed out of office.

14. Should the U.S. tax code be simplified? Is it fair?

Our tax system is out of control. The IRS admits that Americans spend more than 6.1 billion hours a year just doing our taxes—which is a huge tax in itself, time and money that should go toward helping the economy grow. The code is more than 4 million words, and it changes constantly. Most of those words are loopholes and special favors that help the well-connected at the expense of Alaska's families and small businesses. I will reach across the aisle to build a simpler, fairer tax code.

15. Name a specific federal environmental regulation you'd like to see rolled back, and why.

I strongly oppose the EPA forcing fishing vessels to secure permits for pollution discharge for their everyday operations. Though it has not yet gone into effect, this regulation is sufficiently threatening to our small-vessel fishing fleet that it must be discussed and resisted now. If elected, I will join with Senators Begich and Rubio, and Congressmen LoBiondo and Larsen, who have crafted a permanent moratorium on the EPA forcing this absurdly onerous permitting requirement on our fishermen.

16. Name a federal environmental regulation that you think provides important protections for Alaskans.

Like the majority of Alaskans, I support reasonable regulations that protect our fisheries from toxins released during the mining process. Most miners want to see reasonable protections as well, and measures to prevent disasters like the Mount Polley dam spill. Fish are our most precious and renewable resource. While I oppose arbitrary and burdensome federal regulations, there are certain regulations on large-scale mining that are necessary to protect Alaskans and our fishing resource.


Age: 30

Occupation: JAG Officer, Attorney

Current employer: Alaska Army National Guard

Employment history:

-Alaska Office of Public Advocacy

-Feldman Orlansky & Sanders, LLP

-Sonosky, Chambers, Sachse, Miller & Munson, LLP

-Alaska Legal Services

-DC Public Schools (Summer Fellow)

-U.S. Peace Corps (Volunteer)

-Office of Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo

-Alaska Fire Service, Northstar Fire Crew

-Office of Senator Frank Murkowski (Intern)

-F/V's "Cricket" and "Raven's Child" (deck hand)

Previous public offices held: None

Previous unsuccessful runs for office: None

Postsecondary education:

-J.D. - Yale Law School

-Masters of Public Policy - Harvard Kennedy School

-BA in Economics and International Economic Policy – American University

Military service: First Lieutenant, Alaska Army National Guard

Spouse's name: N/A

Children: N/A

Alaska Dispatch News asked each candidate in the major races in Alaska this year to answer a series of written issue questions. Responses were limited to 500 characters.