Leslie Becker is running unopposed in the Republican primary for State House District 36. That means she’s set to challenge incumbent Dan Ortiz, a Ketchikan independent in November’s general election.
She has positioned herself as a Christian conservative who could represent the district, which includes Ketchikan, Wrangell, Metlakatla and the southern half of Prince of Wales Island.
Becker was first elected to Ketchikan’s school board last year to fill out a one-year vacancy. But rather than seek re-election this year, she’s making a run to represent District 36 in the state’s House of Representatives.
Here’s how Becker pitches herself as a candidate: “What I stand for is life, justice, development of our natural resources under wise stewardship so we can build an economy in Southeast Alaska, as well as balancing our budget for the state of Alaska. Also to move forward to improve our education system. So those are five of–the five tenets that I believe in. And I’m a conservative Republican. I believe in being fiscally responsible.”
Becker says she’s aligned with Gov. Mike Dunleavy on issues such as paying a full PFD and cutting state spending. She’s frustrated that more of the governor’s bills haven’t passed the legislature. And she says she has some ideas of her own.
“I was kind of thinking,” she explained, “maybe there’d be somebody else that knows this better. But nobody stepped up. And I knew I needed to step up to offer just a different perspective on how to move forward from a business perspective.”
Becker spent 35 years in hospital administration, health insurance management, and strategic planning. She says those years helped her build the skills to tackle Alaska’s budget deficit. She also served 10 months as director of Ketchikan’s Chamber of Commerce.
Becker is also an ordained minister. Until recently she kept a blog that she says posted transcriptions of a weekly prayer call. Screenshots of some of her writings have been denounced as racist, including one that called on natural resource development to lift up Alaska Native communities suffering from alcoholism and drug abuse.
“This was prayer between the group of people and the God most high,” she elaborated, “and so that was documented. This was not any–anything other than to talk about the people that were going to be affected in ANWR, the people that were going to be affected in Pebble Mine happened to be the Alaska Natives primarily.”
It’s in that vein that Becker says her solution to Alaska’s fiscal cliff is similar to the governor’s: developing the state’s natural resources: commercial fishing, mining and logging.
She says when it comes to Tongass National Forest her views are somewhat controversial in the district. She supports the Trump administration’s attempt to roll back the Roadless Rule for more commercial logging, mining and energy exploration on federal forestlands.
“I don’t think anybody in southeastern Alaska wants to rape and pillage the land,” says Becker. “I do not believe that for a second. I think they want to wisely steward it, but they would like the economic opportunity that they could benefit from.”
Becker has in the past indicated she supports the controversial Pebble Mine on the headwaters of Bristol Bay. She made that clear in a now-deleted religious blog. Asked to elaborate, she offered this comment: “I believe that if Pebble Mine can be wisely stewarded, and it works well with the Alaska Natives and the industry that can come in and complement that and it’s not going to impact and devastate fishing, I would say that would be something that we could move forward with, but I don’t have a position on Pebble at all.”
Natural resources aren’t the only area to develop, though. Becker is a proponent of reforming the Alaska Marine Highway System.
“Southeast Alaska depends on some sort of reliable, predictable and sustainable ferry solution,” Becker explained. “Does it look like the footprint of the vessels we’ve had in the past? I don’t know that that’s the solution.”
All this development talk brings up another one of Becker’s focus points: Alaska’s budget. Since 2018, successive legislatures have drawn from the permanent fund’s earnings reserve to pay for state government. That can’t last but she says reinstating an income tax — or any new taxes — isn’t her answer: “We can’t tax our way to close the deficit. We have to make adjustments and a lot of different ways.”
When pressed for specifics of where she’d cut in services, Becker mentioned rolling back Medicaid expansions and trimming the Department of Health and Social Services. But then she qualified that, saying “I don’t have a specific area that I might want to target and that would be foolish to do that. Because when you don’t know until you sit down again, and talk to the boots on the ground about what’s going on and really look at it. It’s nice to see it from 50,000 feet. But when you’re on ground level, it’s a whole different thing.”
In terms of education, Becker says all school districts in the state should be required to bear the same share of their costs. And she says she wants more accountability.
“Education is a very, very large portion of our state budget,” Becker says. “We need to look at, number one, how we can manage that money more efficiently because we have the highest cost per student, and we have some of the lowest test scores in the nation. And that ratio just that doesn’t feel good to me.”
Becker also wants to see better literacy statewide, and more civic education on U.S. and Alaska history, local government, and voting. Voting and civic engagement are topics Becker says she cares deeply about. She says she hopes to be the voice of southern Southeast, noting that the seat belongs to the people, not the representative.
Party primaries will take place on August 18. As Becker is unopposed in the Republican primary, she is the presumed nominee to run against independent incumbent Dan Ortiz in November. As of now, there aren’t any scheduled debates or joint public appearances with Becker and Ortiz.
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