Jeffrey Manfull, a long-time Anchorage resident, walked up to the microphone at a downtown forum Thursday evening. In front of him sat three of the candidates for Alaska governor.
Most everyone wants more fish, better roads and all the other things you agree on, Manfull, 60, told them. But what's one important thing that sets you apart? Wow me, inspire me, make me vote for you, he said.
People in the crowd at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts laughed and then clapped.
The catch: The loquacious candidates each had just 60 seconds to answer. Before they started talking, the moderator reiterated: "So again, one minute or less."
Mark Begich, a Democrat who served as a U.S. senator and before that as Anchorage mayor, took the first swing. He's the only candidate who supports Proposition 1, he said, amid loud cheers and whistles. (Proposition 1 is also known as the Stand for Salmon initiative. It's set to appear on the Nov. 6 ballot.)
Begich said he's also the only candidate "that is 100 percent pro-choice." People in the crowd cheered. Then he paused. He added that he didn't know the stance of Libertarian candidate Billy Toien, since he believes in less government. (Toien didn't address the issue in his answer, but he did in a 2010 Anchorage Daily News Q&A. That's here.)
And, Begich said, he disagreed with Gov. Bill Walker on the John Sturgeon case that the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to reconsider in June. It deals with the federal government's ability to ban hovercraft in national parks. Begich said he believes it would jeopardize subsistence.
Next: Walker, the incumbent and an independent. He zeroed in on the state's Alaska LNG project that, he said, will create thousands of jobs. This week, ExxonMobil agreed in a preliminary deal to sell its natural gas to the state-led gas line project.
"I'm the only one in the race that has the experience to be able to finish that project," Walker said.
Walker said he worried what would happen if the project didn't get done and "we don't get our resources developed under our own terms."
He also said that while he and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott may disagree on some social issues, that hasn't kept them from doing the job they need to do. Walker said he is pro-life and Mallott is pro-choice. The reproductive rights that are available in Alaska will not change under their administration, he said.
"Those aren't issues that caused me to run for this position," he said. "The issues that caused me to run is I fear for the future of this state economically. I want to make sure our young people will stay in Alaska and they're not going to stay in Alaska if we don't have an economy for them."
It's critical Alaska has the best economy in the country, he said. The crowd clapped.
Toien, the Libertarian in the race, said that for him, "It's the state finances and putting them in order."
"If it weren't for that, I wouldn't even be running," he said. "As I mentioned earlier, I would rather be doing other things."
Toien said he's the only candidate "willing to address the whole of the state's finances."
The crowd clapped.
Mike Dunleavy, the Republican candidate and a former state senator, was not at Thursday's forum. Daniel McDonald, a spokesman for the campaign, said Dunleavy was "attending to personal business." He said he couldn't give more details.
Thursday night's forum was hosted by the Anchorage Downtown Partnership and the Community Councils of Downtown and South Addition. Also, Bree's Law & Victims' Families and Catholic Social Services co-hosted the forum.
Like previous forums, the evening was relatively low-key and no harsh words were passed between candidates as they took questions from people in the audience, Manfull included.
The evening started with a forum between the candidates for lieutenant governor. Anchorage state Sen. Kevin Meyer, the Republican candidate, was not in attendance. McDonald said he was "attending to personal matters."
The general election is Nov. 6. Early voting starts Oct. 22.
Another candidate forum in Anchorage is scheduled for Sept. 20. It's hosted by the Anchorage unit of the NAACP and the University of Alaska Anchorage Multicultural Center.
Here are videos of Thursday's forum from the Anchorage Downtown Partnership: