Candidates in Alaska are campaigning in full swing for the November election. Some highlights:
The comeback of Charlie Pierce
After nearly disappearing from the campaign trail, Republican gubernatorial candidate and former Kenai Mayor Charlie Pierce surprised event organizers by participating in Thursday’s Homer Chamber of Commerce debate with former Independent Governor Bill Walker and the former Democratic state legislator Les Gara.
During Thursday’s debate, Pierce voiced his support for holding a constitutional convention and cutting the state budget. He said he opposes the taxes, calling them “regressive,” but said he wants to look at Alaska’s oil tax credit structure. Gara reiterated his previously stated intention to raise an additional $1.2 billion per year from major oil companies, similar to the Fair Share Act ballot measure rejected by voters in 2020, and to invest more in state services in an effort to reverse the emigration. Walker has made a point of trying to capture as much as possible for Alaska from the trillion-dollar federal infrastructure bill and discussed a tax plan he championed when he was governor.
In August, Pierce announced that he would resign as mayor to focus on his campaign for governor, but a “credible” harassment claim by a city employee later surfaced. His campaign has been almost silent ever since.
Conservative radio host Michael Dukes, who has voiced his support for Pierce, lamented the former mayor’s disappearance from the campaign trail on his radio show Tuesday. Dukes said Pierce had at least helped block the “stalking horse” of far-right Republican Rep. Chris Kurka, who finished fifth in the August primary. Kurka unsuccessfully demanded that Pierce withdraw before the state’s withdrawal deadline. The top four finishers advanced to the general election on November 8.
Pierce’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment Friday about his campaign’s plans for the future. He garnered 6.6% of the vote in the August primary and was fourth behind Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy, Gara and Walker.
The four gubernatorial candidates are scheduled to meet in Anchorage on Tuesday for a forum organized by the Resource Development Council.
For Dunleavy, it will be only his second candidate forum since the launch of his re-election campaign. He previously appeared at a debate hosted by the Alaska Oil and Gas Association and canceled a planned appearance at the Alaska House debate in Fairbanks to respond to the aftermath of a major storm in western Alaska. Dunleavy announced earlier this summer that he would be appearing on just five forums, prompting repeated attacks from Gara and Walker.
Bill and Les Show Heads to Juneau
With Pierce absent from events and Dunleavy set to attend four debates this year, Gara and Walker have spent much of the 2022 campaign season simply debating each other. From Kodiak on Monday for the fishing debate, Gara and Walker traveled to Juneau on Wednesday for a forum at a Douglas bar hosted by the state’s hospitality trade organization. Gara joked that the gubernatorial campaign had become the “Bill and Les Show.”
Both candidates voiced opposition to raising taxes on the alcohol industry and touted their credibility in hospitality: Walker owned a bar and hotel as a young man in Valdez, and Gara owns a small percentage of Snow City Cafe, a popular spot. for breakfast and lunch in downtown Anchorage. . Under the state’s ranked-choice voting system, both Gara and Walker have said they would rank the other as their second choice in an effort to unseat Dunleavy, with recent polls showing the incumbent in the lead.
Constitutional convention opponents reap big windfalls
Defend Our Constitution, the leading group against a constitutional convention, released new financial disclosure documents earlier in the week, showing that it had recently raised more than $1.4 million. That represented a big jump from a month ago when the campaign had raised just over $800,000.
Most of that new funding has come from outside groups like the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit described by the New York Times as a leftist dark money group, which has donated $1.4 million to the campaign as a whole. Another big new donor is the National Education Association, which donated $500,000. Bruce Botelho, president of the Defend Our Constitution campaign, has said he makes no apologies for seeking money from the Lower 48 because the campaign needs enough money to tell all Alaskans why a convention would be wrong.
Convention YES, the main Conservative-backed campaign for a convention, had said it had raised less than $10,000 a month ago. The group must file its disclosure documents by October 10.
Al Gross joins a new fundraising effort
Former congressional candidate from Alaska, Al Gross, who has withdrawn from the race for the US House of Representatives and spending funds in support of the re-election of US Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski and US Democratic Representative Mary Peltola.
According to emails signed by Gross, the fund is intended to promote the benefits of the infrastructure money that comes to Alaska. The new group is working with an existing nonprofit, Build Alaska’s Future, “founded to further the national agenda of the Biden-Harris Administration.”
Veronica Slajer, the organization’s founding director, said it was originally created to be “the local nonprofit partner of the administration” of Democratic President Joe Biden. She said that the organization intends to continue working after the November elections.
The federal infrastructure bill, which could deliver billions to Alaska for projects including broadband infrastructure, ferries and road repairs, was signed into law last year and received the support of US senators from Alaska and the late Rep. Don Young, all Republicans.
Murkowski was a member of a bipartisan group of lawmakers that worked on the bill. Murkowski’s Trump-backed opponent in the US Senate race, Kelly Tshibaka, has said she would have opposed the bill. In the race for the US House of Representatives, both Republican candidates, former Governor Sarah Palin and businessman Nick Begich III, have said they would have opposed the bill.
According to emails signed by Gross, the new organization’s goal is to raise $500,000 to launch a statewide digital media campaign highlighting the benefits of infrastructure funding.
Gross, an orthopedic surgeon who ran unsuccessfully for the US Senate in 2020 against Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan, ran this year as an independent in the special US House race to replace Young before abruptly leaving.
“While I have stepped aside from the race for Congress, I will continue to be involved in initiatives that have a positive impact on Alaska because I want to do what is best for our state,” Gross wrote in the email.
Gross did not respond to a phone call seeking comment and has avoided the press since walking away from the special race for the US House of Representatives in June. In a text message on Saturday, he said he is “excited to help out with this new organization.”
“We’re happy for him to do that,” Slajer said. “I can’t imagine how hard it is to get out of something that you really thought you could have won.”
Pro-Palin and Tshibaka Trump-Backed PAC Campaigns
A group called the Patriot Freedom PAC is campaigning for Palin and Tshibaka, both of whom are backed by former President Donald Trump.
According to a news release from the group, they expect to spend nearly $400,000 in Alaska to campaign for the two candidates, including flying out 20 paid pollsters who have been knocking on doors in Anchorage for the two candidates, and hosting an event in Anchorage. on Sunday featuring an appearance by Palin and a controversial former Wisconsin sheriff.
According to Federal Election Commission files, the PAC was formed this year. It only lists the Anchorage event on its website. The only collaborator mentioned so far is Caryn Borland, from California, who gave the group $190,000 in June and appears to be a Christian musician. FEC files show that she is a regular contributor to Trump-endorsed candidates.
The PAC said it planned to hand out “20,000 lightsaber blades marked with Kelly Tshibaka’s name” in a play on her last name, which is pronounced similarly to the “Star Wars” character “Chewbacca.” But Tshibaka will not be at the event. Her campaign adviser, Mary Ann Pruitt, said she had pre-existing campaign commitments on the Kenai Peninsula and in Fairbanks, but declined to provide details.
Palin is expected to speak at the planned rally in Anchorage, complete with a mechanical bull and bouncy house. Also speaking will be David Clarke, a former Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, sheriff and a prominent Trump representative who has made controversial statements, including supporting an unfounded conspiracy theory about a school shooting.
While Tshibaka will miss the mechanical bull, she is scheduled to appear at an Anchorage candidates’ forum on Monday along with fellow Senate candidates Murkowski and Democrat Pat Chesbro. The three will share the stage at a forum hosted by the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, after Tshibaka missed a forum in Kodiak this week to raise funds in Texas with Trump-backed candidate Blake Masters, who is running for the seat. of the United States Senate in Arizona.
All four US House candidates were also invited to the Anchorage House forum, but only two, Republican Nick Begich and Libertarian Chris Bye, have confirmed they will attend.
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