FAIRBANKS -- The top three impediments to development in Alaska, according to the three GOP Senate candidates who answered questions at a Chamber of Commerce forum here Wednesday, are as follows:
Mead Treadwell: President Barack Obama, the Environmental Protection Agency, federal land ownership.
Dan Sullivan: Overregulation, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the EPA.
Joe Miller: The federal government, environmentalists and "people without conviction and courage."
About 200 people attended the forum, where candidates responded to questions from moderator Lorna Shaw as well as from forum sponsors that included local businesses and the Alaska Oil and Gas Association.
With less than two weeks to go before the primary election, the GOP contenders continue to expend much of their energy going after incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Begich and the federal government. Their complaints about one another have increased somewhat recently, but the candidates save their harshest attacks for political ads and other situations where they do not share a stage. They took jabs at each other Wednesday but kept it polite for most of the 90-minute session.
As the GOP debates continue, Treadwell and Sullivan seek to position themselves as the most conservative and electable, bashing Begich, Obama and "federal overreach" at every opportunity.
"Beating Mark Begich can lead to removing Harry Reid from the Senate majority leadership and rolling back this Obama administration agenda that has taken our country in the wrong direction," said Sullivan.
The former attorney general and natural resources commissioner said that if elected, he would introduce a bill for a one-year freeze on new regulations. Treadwell repeated his call for greater control over Alaska land and resources.
"I am not interested in going to Washington with a gunnysack for federal money," Treadwell said. "I'm interested in going to Washington with a crowbar to pry loose our liberties, to pry loose our rights and to bring power and decision-making home."
The three said they oppose recent steps by the EPA to use the Clean Water Act to veto the Pebble mine, oppose Obamacare and support the oil tax law now in effect. Sullivan and Miller said they would vote "no" on the oil tax repeal, while Treadwell said he called for cutting oil taxes before Gov. Sean Parnell and Sullivan did.
"Had it not been for Fairbanks sending us the key votes to change over the Senate, we might still be in this morass," he said. "Instead, we have a competitive tax structure, which is helping to attract investment to this state."
Miller said there are "close questions" on the tax repeal and that his family is divided on the question, as are his supporters. He said the former ACES tax structure helped spur investment and oil and gas production in Cook Inlet by small independent companies. Those same independent companies are opposing repeal, he said, and his decision was "informed by their position."
Sullivan said Alaska has a role to play in leading the "American energy renaissance."
In the mix of anti-federal and anti-Obama statements, Miller went beyond Sullivan and Treadwell, calling for impeachment of the president.
"I think we all agree that Obama's out of control," Miller said, adding that the president is acting almost like a dictator.
When it was Miller's turn to question Sullivan, he asked the former attorney general what it would take for him to support impeachment. Sullivan did not answer the question directly but said that if articles of impeachment reached the Senate, he would take them seriously.
Under the Constitution, the House of Representatives has the power to vote for articles of impeachment, while the Senate serves an adjudicatory role. Sullivan said he agrees "110 percent that this administration is out of control" but argued that an Alaska senator has to use influence to accomplish what the state needs, citing votes to confirm Cabinet secretaries that Begich should have used for leverage on such issues as the King Cove road request.
The "vast majority" of Alaskans want a senator to focus on efforts to "jumpstart the economy and energy production," Sullivan said.
One disagreement between Treadwell and Miller arose over the 2011 anti-abortion initiative that Treadwell blocked from the ballot. Sullivan opposed it as well. Treadwell said he acted because he was following the law, based on legal precedent.
"You've stated previously that the Constitution, from your interpretation, protected life at conception," Miller said. "But you blocked an initiative because you said the Constitution, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, does not make that protection as a matter of law."
Miller said if Treadwell believes that life is protected by the Constitution, it's a violation of his oath of office to say the Supreme Court does not allow the initiative.
Treadwell said Miller's claim was "lawyer doublespeak."
"These are times which we have courts that don't follow the Constitution," said Miller, adding that the government has gone far beyond its 18 enumerated powers in the Constitution.
"We have to have men and women of courage and leadership to stand behind the Constitution because, frankly, for this state it's the future."
The final challenge of the forum, which came from the audience, was for each candidate to pay a "sincere compliment" to his opponents. Each man characterized the other two as good family men who want a better future for their children and for Alaska. Treadwell added that his opponents are also good lawyers.