Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Alaska Gubernatorial Candidates Take on Fisheries Issues

When it comes to myriad commercial fisheries issues facing Alaska, from a declining budget to Russia’s ban on import of Alaska seafood, three candidates vying to be Alaska’s next governor had plenty to say this past week in Kodiak.

The occasion was the 2014 fisheries debate, sponsored by the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce and KMXT Kodiak public radio, featuring incumbent Gov. Sean Parnell, Independent candidate Bill Walker and Democrat Byron Mallott. (Five days after the debate, Walker and Mallott announced in Anchorage that they had combined their campaigns to a single Independent slate, with Walker running for governor and Mallott for lieutenant governor).

In his closing comments during the two-hour debate on Aug. 28, Walker said he was running because as a life-long resident, father and grandfather, he was worried about the future of the state. When someone in Fairbanks asked him recently why he was working so hard on his campaign, Walker said he responded with “Let me ask you a question: if you were out in a boat with your family and taking on water, how hard would you bail?”

Alaska’s fisheries, said Mallott, are a bellwether of the kind of place we are, the kind of people we are.” Alaskans’ concern for the demise of the salmon resource runs deep, he noted, and was a reason for statehood.

All three offered suggestions on increasing resident involvement and ownership in Alaska’s fishing and processing industry, from tax credits to developing the next generation of employable workers for the industry.  But as Parnell brought up tax incentives, Walker spoke of his passion for local hire, and said if he were to provide such economic incentives, they would be based on the company’s percentage of local hire.

In addition to questions from fisheries writers, the candidates responded to questions from the audience, including what the state should do to help those in the fishing industry with no employer-based health insurance.

Walker said he would, as governor, quickly accept expanded Medicaid for Alaska, for three reasons. “Number one, he said, Alaskans have already paid for it. Number two, it helps between 10,000 and 40,00 Alaskans, and three, it creates over 4,000 new medical positions in Alaska, and that’s before it brings down the cost of health care in Alaska.”

All three men also spoke of the importance of providing educational and economic means to help young Alaskans gain entry to the fishing industry, and protecting fishery habitat.  Growing the resource, so there is a bright future, low interest loans, research and development opportunities are key, Walker said.

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