There was much consensus and a surprising lack of contention during a U.S. House of Representatives candidate forum put on by the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce Oct. 17.
Democrat candidate Steve Lindbeck, a former Anchorage newspaper journalist and recently the general manager of Alaska Public Media, did not pursue threads critical of longtime incumbent Republican Rep. Don Young that his campaign has highlighted in TV spots and news releases.
Lindbeck’s campaign has continuously condemned Young for taking campaign contributions from the marine services company Edison Chouest and not intervening in Alyeska Pipeline Service Co’s. business negotiations as Edison Chouest prepares to take over the oil tanker escort contract in Prince William Sound from Crowley Maritime Corp., which has provided the support service out of Valdez since 1990.
Rather, Lindbeck, Young and Libertarian candidate Jim McDermott, of Fairbanks, stayed on subject in what turned out to be more of an hour-long Q-and-A than a debate.
He respects the 43 years of service Young has put into being Alaska’s lone member in the House, Lindbeck said, but added that people across the state are telling him Alaska needs new leadership to face its new economic and climate challenges.
“Alaskans are worried about the economy; people are worried about their jobs; they’re worried about making rent, about educating their kids and we know we need to look ahead to the next 40 years to figure out how we can diversify our economy and move forward with the great entrepreneurial spirit of Alaskans,” Lindbeck said.
He noted that during an eight-year tenure under his guidance, Alaska Public Media went from $2 million in debt to holding $3 million in cash reserves.
“I know how to make things happen. I know how to work with people across the board to get things done and that’s the kind of leadership that I will bring to Congress,” Lindbeck said. “I pledge to work with anyone who wants to work with Alaska and get things done for our state.”
The state needs to prioritize “the traditional things that make things happen in Alaska,” such as education, Arctic research and infrastructure, broadband and resource development, he insisted.
Lindbeck called resource development “the birthright of statehood,” and said Alaska’s stewardship of its resources has been second to none.
If elected, he would be a lonely Democrat on Capitol Hill when it comes to the issues of opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and offshore Arctic areas to oil and gas production.
“I have always supported exploration in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It’s something we should’ve taken care of long ago,” Lindbeck said.
Young responded to a question about advancing North Slope oil and gas development by saying he’s done his part.
“ANWR — I passed it 12 times out of the House; 12 times I’ve done the job. Eleven times it never got out of the Senate. The one time it got out of the Senate the Democratic Party vetoed it. That’s what I’ve been able to do,” Young said.
At 83, Young characterized himself as “a little mature, but I don’t feel it,” repeatedly noting that major pieces of national legislation for Alaska, such as the authorization for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, have started in the House under his watch.
“I’ve had 79 bills signed into law and I’m proud of that because I’ve focused in on Alaska issues. An individual who says, ‘I’m going to do this, I’m going to do that’ is just full of it,” Young told the audience in typical blunt fashion. “My job is to hear what you have on your minds, listen to you and then focus and have a laser beam on that issue and see if we can solve it.”
Lindbeck pushed back against Young once, saying despite the accomplishments he touts, Republicans have held Congress for the majority of the last 20 years and Alaska still lacks access to its resources on federal lands; the country still needs new icebreakers and the Magnuson-Stevens Act that manages federal fisheries is long overdue for an update.
“We have a lot more work to do to have Alaskans’ interests be represented (in Congress) and they need to be represented on both sides of the aisle,” Lindbeck said.
Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski, up for reelection this year, and Dan Sullivan are both Republicans.
McDermott, an Air Force veteran and business professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said he supports resource development in the state, but with restraint.
“If the demand is there and we’re willing to do it responsibly then I would consider the possibility of moving forward for safely harvesting our natural resources. But at the same time, if we keep getting on bended knee to big oil and big gas companies and not diversifying our economy, then we’re going to keep finding ourselves over and over again in the same dilemma we’re seeing ourselves facing right now,” McDermott said, referencing the state’s struggling economy.
“We need to be putting our resources into our most important resource — human resource — small business development.”
On health care, Lindbeck and Young were back in step.
“The Affordable Care Act is not affordable for working Alaskans; we understand that,” Lindbeck said.
He said the national health care policy needs to have coverage pools expanded beyond state lines to allow high-cost — and often low population — states such as Alaska to access lower cost services through economies of scale. Lindbeck added that the current federal marketplace needs more tiers of coverage to give individuals more choices in insurance plans.
Young largely concurred, saying the country needs expanded risk pools and that the massive piece of legislation was not vetted in the medical field before President Barack Obama signed it into law in 2010.
Fixing the ACA requires studying if excessive regulations have forced insurers and providers to increase costs, according to Young. He also said the future of national health care will depend a lot on the outcome of the presidential election.
McDermott did not have proposals to lower health care or insurance costs.
Even on the presidential race Lindbeck and Young didn’t differ as much as one might think. Unsurprisingly, Lindbeck said Republican candidate Donald Trump is “completely unfit to be the president of the United States.” However, he did not offer a ringing endorsement of his party’s nominee.
“The American people have one choice, which is to elect Hillary Clinton as president,” Lindbeck said. “We’re going to need to make sure as Alaskans that we can keep her accountable, that she understands our needs in Alaska, that we will stand up to the Democratic Party on some occasions where they don’t meet the needs of Alaska, particularly around oil and gas development and other resource issues.”
Murkowski and Sullivan recently called for Trump to drop out of the race.
Young declined to name names.
“I worked with eight presidents and I’ll work with the ninth president to make sure Alaska is properly represented — not only that but trying to encourage the importance of Arctic resource development,” Young said. “I wont be happy, particularly with one of them being elected and won’t be too happy with the other one, but I think it’s a bright spot. It’ll make Congress do the job they should be doing.”
An ardent opponent to nearly everything the Obama administration has done, Young has consistently said that control in the federal government has slowly been shifting to the executive branch, which goes against the country’s founding principles.
“I’m looking upon this (presidential) election, regardless of who gets elected, as a challenge, and that’s a challenge I’ll gladly accept,” he said.
McDermott noted there is sill another choice.
“I haven’t officially heard that (Libertarian presidential candidate) Gary Johnson has dropped out of the race, so just to let you know he may still be in there,” McDermott said.
Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]