The three primary candidates running for governor this year convened at Kodiak’s Gerald C. Wilson Auditorium last night for a debate focused solely on topics related to the seafood industry. Incumbent Sean Parnell, Democrat Byron Mallott and Independent candidate Bill Walker fielded dozens of questions from a media panel, audience members and even each other during the event that was broadcast around the state.
One question posed by an audience member dealt with the Fish and Game and the department’s declining budgets in recent years.
Parnell said the state is getting a pretty good return on investment when you consider it is spending about $200 million on a $6 to $10 billion industry.
“The underlying premise of the question about cuts to Fish and Game – I can tell you that with this legislature we have championed putting more dollars into research when it comes to our fisheries. We have now over 100 people working on getting information as to why fisheries are declining – the salmon in particular – in the marine environment, with 36 projects on going. That is incredibly necessary to sustain our fisheries for the years to come. So bottom line is we’re going to continue making that investment – not just into research, but into management of our fisheries, as well as to the marketing aspects as well.”
Another audience member asked what the candidates would do to help self-employed, uninsured fisherman get necessary medical coverage that often comes from an employer.
Walker was quick with his response and said he would accept expanded Medicaid for Alaska as soon as he took office for three reasons:
“Number one – Alaskans have already paid for it. Number two – it helps between 10 and 40,000 Alaskans and three it creates over 4,000 medical positions in Alaska. And actually fourth it brings down the cost of healthcare in Alaska. There is no logical reason not to accept expanded Medicaid. I have heard from individual and individual, from parents on behalf of their children, from young people aged 26, 27, 28 – they’ve come off their parents’ insurance and they can’t afford to get insurance themselves. This is why I’m running as an independent. I can make these decisions – whatever is best for Alaska, that’s what I’ll do. This is not a partisan decision for me. This is what’s best for Alaska. I will accept expanded Medicaid.”
Candidates were also asked their opinions on religious and spiritual rights to fish, specifically in terms of subsistence harvests.
Mallott said he recognized that there is a real divide in this state when it comes to subsistence issues and he felt like it is something that needs to be resolved.
“Because we all have a spiritual connection with our natural resources, particularly those that sustain us bodily and yes, sustain us spiritually. We, as has been said, must protect at all costs, sustainability for future generations. But we also must recognize the uniqueness among Alaska’s people in the use and the reasons for the use of our resources. We must do it in a way that is sensitive and nuanced, and we must do it in a way that ultimately all Alaskans appreciate and understand and support for its uniqueness and it’s being something that is especially Alaskan.”
Last night’s debate also included a series of lighting rounds, where candidates had to race against each other to quickly ring a bell and answer a fisheries quiz questions. The questions were posed by the debate’s moderator, former Kodiak Mayor Jerome Selby.
“So the first one is how many species of salmon are fished commercially in Alaska? Five. Next question – what does CDQ stand for? Community Development Quota. Very good. And how many CDQ groups are there in Alaska? (*Together*) Six. There were a lot of bells there but you all got the right answer. It is six.”
You can find a link to the full debate on our website, kmxt.org.