U.S. House candidates Begich and Peltola visit Kenai for candidate forum
Two of the three candidates vying to temporarily fill the late Congressman Don Young’s seat in the U.S House of Representatives made the trip to Kenai last week for a candidate forum hosted by the Kenai and Soldotna chambers of commerce.
In attendance were Republican candidate Nick Begich III and Democrat Mary Peltola, the respective first and fourth place winners of the June primary. The primary’s first-place finisher, Republican Sarah Palin, did not attend. Third-place finisher, Independent Al Gross, dropped out of the race back in June.
Begich is the grandson of the democratic former U.S. House Representative Nick Begich Sr. and founded a business software company. Before Young died, Begich was running as a more conservative alternative to the late congressman.
Peltola, who’s from Bethel, served for 10 years in the Alaska Legislature. She’s currently the director for the Kuskokwim River Inter Tribal Fish Commission.
Through dozens of rapid-fire questions submitted in advance and asked by moderator Merrill Sikorski, the two candidates discussed gas prices, homelessness, debt, immigration and their priorities for the job.
Peltola said her top priorities for Alaska are to fund infrastructure improvements at ports in the state, like Anchorage’s Port of Alaska, and to codify safe and legal abortions.
Begich spoke in favor of energy and development, and combating inflation.
“I don’t think you can represent the state if you’re not pro-resources development. I think we’ve got to make a strong business case for the state of Alaska, and that’s the top priority for me,” he said.
In response to a question about what the candidates would do in Congress on behalf of the Alaska Liquified Natural Gas project, which would ship gas from the North Slope to a plant in Nikiski and then overseas to Japan, Begich expressed his unequivocal support for building the pipeline and said he would work to garner support from lawmakers.
Peltola said Alaska should consider other ways of shipping gas overseas, like a route to Europe through the Arctic.
On the matter of the Second Amendment, both candidates expressed strong support for the right to bear arms. Begich advocated against any restrictions to gun access, while Peltola spoke in support of bipartisan discussion about the definitions of assault rifles and acknowledged an “epidemic of gun violence.”
On the subject of immigration, Peltola said that illegal immigration is not a major concern in Alaska, but voiced her support for jobs in Alaska being prioritized for Alaska residents over immigrants. Begich advocated for stronger borders and policies that discourage illegal immigration.
In response to a question about budget policy and the federal deficit, Begich called for a balancing of the budget by reeling in government spending and growing the economy. Peltola called for a revision of tax policies and the removal of caps on income taxes for the wealthy.
Both candidates emphasized their commitment to bipartisan collaboration and conversation across the aisle, with Peltola going so far as to call partisanship an issue of national security.
“I honestly think one of the biggest threats to the United States of America is our own partisanship,” she said. “The way that we tear each other down, politically, is a tremendous threat and it makes our enemies nothing but happy. We have formidable enemies, we have real enemies. Having grown up in the Cold War, I have a very strong sense now that we are living in a world that is very much like the Cold War that I grew up in in the ’80s.”
Begich used his closing statement to critique candidate Sarah Palin — who has led the pack in fundraising — for her lack of attendance at the forum.
“Well, I just think it’s great that we’ve got two actual Alaskans up here. I don't know where this third candidate is,” Begich said. “I’d be happy to give her 30 seconds to respond, but she’s not here, so we’re not gonna worry about that.”
He also expressed his belief in the potential of Alaskans and his desire to be a voice for Alaska in Congress.
In Peltola’s closing statement, she talked about her children and her vested interest in the future of the state.
“I think despite how diverse our state is, we all have a common future, it’s in all of our best interest to work together as one, and I would love to work on your behalf in D.C.” she said.
Early voting opened last Monday for the special election. Voters will rank their top candidates from the three options to fill the remainder of Young’s term in Congress.
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