Anchorage (KTUU) — At an event foreshadowing the continued role of energy production in Alaska politics, the Alaska Oil and Gas Association held its Great Debate Conference at the Dena’ina Center Thursday, where gubernatorial candidates squared off against each other for screen time, armed to the teeth with well-rehearsed, pro-development talking points.
The debate began with opening statements.
Governor Bill Walker, whose partly affiliation in the upcoming election will ultimately be decided by former U.S. Senator Mark Begich, said in his opening remarks that he inherited a mess, and that he has actively worked as Governor to fix it.
"We did a lot of things in order to get ahold of the $3.7 billion deficit it skyrocketed to," he said.
Republican candidate Scott Hawkins downplayed his lack experience governing in an elected office, instead touting his career in the private sector.
"Like many of us here, I've held a North Slope access badge for well over 20 years,” Hawkins said. “So I understand the industry well."
And Republican Mike Dunleavy, a social conservative from the Mat-Su Valley who quit the Senate to run for Governor, talked about his time in the legislature, and how he wants to return the state to its economic prime.
"I became increasingly concerned because when you have a decline in production like that, you run the risk of losing revenue, losing jobs, losing opportunities," Dunleavy said.
Debate moderator Andrew Jensen of the Alaska Journal of Commerce started with one of Alaska's top dollar questions.
"What do you see for the future of oil and gas in Alaska?" Jensen asked.
The candidate's answers mirrored each other, all with an Alaska Oil and Gas Association audience in mind.
"We have a great future ahead in oil and gas, there's absolutely no question about that," Walker said.
"I think the future's bright for Alaska," Dunleavy said.
"We're on the verge of a renaissance I believe," Hawkins said.
But when it came time for the candidates to question each other, the heat came down on Governor Walker. Each candidate had two opportunities to question another candidate. Both Dunleavy and Hawkins aimed their opportunities at Governor Walker.
Dunleavy delved into core issues facing Alaska: The nation's highest unemployment rate, poor educational outcomes, high sexual abuse rates, all in preparation for the question.
"With all of these issues occurring, and some would say that certain systems in the state of Alaska are actually melting down, Governor, why does it appear that climate change has now become a major focus of your administration?"
Walker responded saying he passed legislation to reduce crime, and due to the cyclical nature of Alaska's seasonal economy, the unemployment rate in Alaska has always been higher than average.
"As far as the issue of Climate Change, it is important,” Walker said. “And we're at ground zero on Climate Change. As I received input on villages that are being washed away, we have to respond to that.We don't step over the opportunities here and ignore those in the rural Alaska that are faced every day with the loss of their communities as a result of Climate Change."
Rep. Mike Chenault (R-Nikiski) was not present at the debate, despite being listed in the program.
The filing deadline for candidates is tomorrow at 5 pm.