LISTEN: U.S. Senate candidate Al Gross is here to answer your questions

Al Gross stands on a boat dock holding fisherman's jacket over his shoulder, looking at the camera
Dr. Al Gross (Al Gross for US Senate)

Making his first run for public office, Al Gross wants to win the race for Alaska’s U.S. Senate seat, currently held by incumbent Dan Sullivan. Gross is running as an Independent with support from state democrats. What does he want to accomplish for Alaska if voters decide to send him to Washington DC? Continuing our coverage of congressional candidates, Independent Al Gross joins us for the next Talk of Alaska.

HOST: Lori Townsend

  • Al Gross-I, candidate, U.S. Senate


This transcript has been edited and shortened for clarity.

Lori Townsend: Al Gross is a newcomer to Alaska’s political scene. And he is taking on incumbent US Senator Dan Sullivan. Gross is a doctor and a longtime commercial fisherman who is running as an independent with support from state Democrats. What does he think his experience will bring to the table? What are his goals? Should Alaskans send him to Washington? We’re continuing our coverage of the congressional races today on Talk of Alaska. Alright, independent candidate Al Gross is on the line. Hello.

Al Gross: Well, good morning, Lori. And good morning to the state of Alaska and all the people listening in. I really appreciate the opportunity to be on your show. And it’s a beautiful day here in Anchorage, one of the first days of fall and I know a lot of people that moose hunt and caribou hunt and pick berries, and it’s one of my favorite times of year. So I really appreciate the opportunity to share the day with you.

LT: Well, thank you for being on. And I’ve got a ton of questions. I know Alaskans are going to have a lot of questions as well. I see that there’s calls already coming in. So let’s start with the US Supreme Court. President Trump says he will name a woman on Saturday to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died last Friday. Senate Republicans appear to have enough votes to move this forward. Should the confirmation proceed before the election? Should there at least be hearings? What are your thoughts about that?

AG: Well, first of all I’m running for office right now. I’m not a U.S. Senator. I’m not there. And my focus is on winning this election, not the Supreme Court debate that’s about to ensue. But I don’t think there should be a vote until the election. And that’s the ultimate hypocrisy on the Republicans part. When they made this such a big deal four years ago against Justice Garland, and that was 10 months before an election. We’re about 45 days before an election. And I don’t think that that’s enough time to adequately vet new justice through the subcommittee and the full committee and then on the floor of the Senate. And I think it’s the ultimate hypocrisy and it’s dishonest on the republicans part. Because Senator Sullivan, Senator Graham, so many other republicans are on record saying that they should wait and let the voters decide four years ago now they’ve turned around and changed their tune.

LT: Do you think Democrats would do the same if they had control of the Senate?

AG: I don’t think the democrats would have stopped the confirmation process of Merrick Garland or Justice four years ago, if they’d been in the opposite shoes.

LT: Let’s talk about the recent court decision on the general election ballot and how your name will now appear, you will be presented as the Democratic nominee with no other designation. What do you think about that? Are you concerned?

AG: Well, I’m disappointed to see the division of elections present the ballot that way and they’re trying to present me as being a Democrat, and I’m certainly not a Democrat. And, you know, I mean, Dan Sullivan has gone out of his way to say that I’m a liberal Democrat, and that’s really just a bunch of crap. I was a deaf, I was a republican for five years, I was a registered Democrat for less than one year. And I’ve been a non partisan independent for all the rest of my life. And I don’t see myself as a partisan at all, I just see myself as an Alaskan sharing Alaskan values. And I’m very fiscally conservative, I believe in an enforceable and strong immigration policy. I think the government should stay out of our personal lives. And I’m a strong supporter of states rights. And I’m certainly not about to take away anybody’s guns or ban any weapons because I’m an Alaskan. And if that makes me a liberal, then I think you need to redefine the word liberal because I’m not a liberal Democrat. And so I’m disappointed to see the Division of Elections. Take that away. And I just hope Alaskans understand when they go to the ballot that I’m representing them as a non partisan independent.

LT: Well, you reference some of this, The Anchorage Daily News reported last week that in 1980, registered as non-partisan, then sort of switched around between undeclared and independent in the 90s. He registered as a Republican for five years. And then most recently, you registered as a Democrat in 2017, changed about a year later to nonpartisan? What was that about test driving all these different parties?

AG: Well, to be honest, I think I was confused when I went back between non-partisan and independent and I think that that classification in Alaska does confuse a lot of Alaskans, including myself, but I meant to just register as a non-partisan. Back in the 90s. I was a republican for five years and as I said, I have a lot of values that the Republican Party shares, and I briefly became a democrat after Donald Trump won, at a protest, because I was very concerned about what was going to happen to our country under his leadership. But after about 10 months, I went back to my nonpartisan registration, because that really is truly who I am.

LT: So why run as the Democratic nominee, why not run completely independent to avoid that criticism from Alaskans who say, You’re really a democrat?

AG: Well, I’m running in the Democratic primary. So I was able to clear the field of any democrats and end up in a two way general election, which is my best chance to beat Dan Sullivan, if I’d run as a third party candidate in the general election, there would certainly have been a democrat that ran against me, and I’m sure I would have ended up splitting some of the votes with that person. And my chances of beating Dan Sullivan would have been less. And of course, I’ll caucus with the Democrats. Primarily because the Republicans have failed miserably when it comes to health care. And the Affordable Care Act did not address the high cost of health care, it expanded access for health care to people both in the state and the country. But it did not address the cost issue. And that needs to be done. And I believe that Democrats are motivated to do that. And also, the democrats are much more aware of our changing environment. The Republican Party has been in denial of climate change, including Dan Sullivan and President Trump. And I would like to be in a leadership role to try and understand what’s happening to our changing climate. I also am a very, very strong believer that the government should stay out of our personal lives and our personal decisions, especially in health care. And as a doctor, I’ve seen how complicated some of these decisions that we have to make long as life goes by whether it’s the beginning of life or end of life decisions, or getting a cancer diagnosis in the middle of your life. These are always deeply, deeply personal and complicated decisions that I think the government has no role getting involved with.

LT: We have an email question from Bud Couzenslee, I hope I’m pronouncing that correctly. But says you have touted your independence and chided Sullivan for voting 97% of the time with the Republicans if you are elected, how would you be effective if you did not vote with the democrats on a regular basis? What issues do you see yourself voting against the democratic party?

AG: Well, I’d certainly not be beholden to the Democratic Party and I would absolutely break with them on issues like guns and immigration and fiscal policies.

LT: Let’s go to the phones for a moment. Ernie is in Sitka, hi, Ernie.

CALLER: Thank you. As a young troller in the mid 70s, I held a statewide troll gear card. And as fishermen at the time, we thought electing a governor, who was a fisherman was a good idea. And then we were restricted from fishing west of Cape suckling, after governor Hammond was elected, are you committed to represent all gear groups and management decisions? And would you support allowing the troll fishery to expand westward? Thank you.

AG: That’s a great question. And as you probably know, I started him trolling in Southeast Alaska when I was 14, and then went on to power troll and ended up power trolling. Out on the Fairweather grounds in West of Sitka before I went on to pertaining and longlining and Gill netting, so I have a lot of experience in the troll industry. And you may know I’ve been a strong proponent of extending the Alaskan boundary from three miles out to 12 miles. And I think that would give the state much better control of its fisheries, it would reduce the amount of bycatch that we would see from the catcher processors from down south to Seattle base guys, and it would increase our revenue source.Texas and Florida are already have a Nine Mile law in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Both or all three of those who want a 12 mile, I think Alaska should have that too. And I would need to look into the issue that you’re discussing a little bit more closely before I made a commitment to that. But I’m a very strong supporter of trawlers and all your groups, all fishing gear groups are in Alaska.

LT: Alright. Thanks for the question. Ernie. We are going to be bouncing around a lot because Alaskans will have various questions. And as well, I so it might seem a little random, but that’s what we’re going to do. The President has said that voting by mail invites fraud. Do you have concerns about vote by mail and what may be happening this fall?

AG: I’m a strong supporter of voting by mail. I think it’s safe. I don’t think it’s fraudulent. And I think it’s something that Alaskans should do in the face of COVID-19. As you know, of course, President Trump and Dan Sullivan, alongside have been working hard to dismantle our Postal Service, you’re both in Alaska and across the country and privatized it. And that doesn’t work for rural Alaska, we’re so dependent on our post office bypass mail system, that I would be a very, very strong supporter of the post post office. I think people should vote by mail because especially in the face of COVID-19. It’s the safest way to go.

LT: Alright, thanks for that. Tell us about your shift in thinking regarding healthcare policy. At one time you were supportive of a Medicare for all plan tweeting in 2018. “After the recent federal court decision in Texas, striking down the ACA, I can’t think of a more compelling reason to push forward for a single payer system and a Medicare for all type health care system. It’s the only way we can truly cover pre existing conditions”. You are now supportive of a public option explain what type of public option program you’d want to see in place and wife changed your mind about single payer?

AG: Yeah, I, I never said that. As a Senator, I would support Medicare for All I don’t think that’s the best policy for America. And I am a strong proponent of incremental change in our healthcare system. It’s taken us eight years to get to where we are. We’re not going to snap our fingers and end up in a completely different system overnight. And I don’t think that we should in America is a country where people demand choices. And I think it should always remain that way. People may want more than the services that a government provided health care system might provide. And so I think that there should always be a role for private health insurance, and whatever type of system that we develop. And of course I know, health care from the inside out and many of the problems that the health care system has. And I really, truly believe that public option, allowing individuals and small businesses the right to buy Medicare directly from the government is a great first small step in the right direction of more comprehensive health coverage for Alaskans and Americans at a much more affordable cost. And so, you know, I wrote a lot about the single payer system several years ago, as a means of highlighting what the expensive health care system is doing to our economy here in Alaska and our country. But I’ve never said that I support Medicare for all as a policy for America.

LT: Well, that was the tweet that you’d sent out was that I can’t think of a more compelling reason to push forward for a single payer system and a Medicare for all type health care system.

AG: Well, fight the healthcare system, I guess, is the caveat there. And I stick with what I say. I think a public option is the best way to go. And I think it should be started small, allowing for individuals and small businesses to buy into it, and no one else’s expense. I don’t think that would grow government, there’s already a very good, low cost administration to pay for health insurance through our Medicare system, you know, the overhead is only about 4% administrative costs compared to the 25%, or more administrative costs through the private health insurance industry. And that’s led to prices getting higher and higher and higher in the country. And it’s really hurting Alaskans and Americans and really eroding into the middle class.

LT: So why is this so hard to get done? health care costs, as you noted, are incredibly high insurance is just unattainable for many people who don’t have employer offered plans. You said Republicans have failed miserably at health care reform, and this would be a reason to caucus with Democrats. What What would you bring to that? Do you like the Affordable Care Act? And would want to improve on that? Or how do you see this taking shape going forward?

AG: Well, I like certain aspects of the Affordable Care Act, the fact that it provides coverage for pre existing conditions, is really, really important. And as you may know, there’s a court case going on that may lead to the stripping of pre-existing conditions and the taking away of the Affordable Care Act. So it’s a really, really important issue. And I believe that the democrats are motivated to address the cost issue. There’s a lot of special interests involved with helping with health insurance. You know, you’ve got corporate america making a lot of money off of the current system. And I believe that that’s led to a lot of the resistance on the republicans part, but they had the House, the Senate and the presidency. And they couldn’t come up with anything to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, they just wanted to tear it back down to where it was, and where it was originally was not working. And that’s what led to the Affordable Care Act being passed in the first place, but it does need to be improved upon. And I really strongly believe there needs to be a public option in there as well.

LT: So drilling down a bit on the as you were mentioning corporate influence corporate money in there. Pro publica recently highlighted a story about a doctor in Austin, who got an antibody test at one of the facilities where he works, he thought it’d probably be free, but he was charged $10,984 for a test that Medicare pays $42 for the doctor said he knew the materials for the test cost about $8. his insurance company paid it without question. He was so disgusted, he quit his job, who’s most at fault for this type of disparity in this wild range of prices? The ER clinic, the insurance company for not challenging it. How can this be fixed, if you still have the same players in the system?

AG: I think we’re all responsible for this system that we have. We’ve let it develop into what we have. And it’s taken eight years to get there. And as I said, there are a lot of stakeholders who are making a lot of money off the current system at the expense of the consumer. And we need to change that. And now you’re right. It’s completely unacceptable to have charges like that. People do that because they can get away with it. And they can get away with it because of the inner intermediary of the private health insurance company, which is not transparent and that’s allowed prices to go higher and higher and higher. And of course providers and hospitals benefit from that with high reimbursements. Consumers suffer from that because their premiums are extraordinarily high. And here in Alaska, health care premiums are triple the national average. And we’re never going to be able to get new businesses to move to the state and diversify our economy. If we don’t rectify that situation.

LT: We are going to stay with healthcare for just a moment and go back to the phones. Hans is in Anchorage, Hello.

CALLER: Hi. Yes. Can you hear me? Okay?

LT: Yes.

CALLER: Okay. Yes, thank you. Mr. Gross. I first heard about you. In an article from Charles Wolf. Fourth, you’re both legacy, sons of politicians, sons of walks in Alaska history. One of the things you said in this article that he quote is, I think the fact that prices are extraordinary high in Alaska regarding health care costs, allowing hospitals and medical providers to make very high profits in the in the delivery of care, is one of the only reasons as to why health care costs to consumers in the form of premiums are so high. But although you have this expert knowledge in receiving lots of money in orthopedic care, and you probably know that in other specialties, there’s many other things that are involved. And so I’m wondering, have you changed your position on that Do you understand, from your master’s in public health that for the ordinary person in Alaska, and for the sum total of spending in Alaska on health care, it’s not about the specialties necessarily. It’s about just general care, getting health care. And that’s why it’s so important that we have Medicare for All. And so I just asked you with someone that with no stakes in the game right now, right, you’ve made your nut, you have millions of dollars. And you’re now trying to be a political legacy that, you know, the ordinary Alaskans that you’re trying to stand up for? really aren’t that motivated to vote for you if you’re arguing to stand up for their medical needs? And also, why are you so focused on the medical side? in Congress, nothing is going to be done, because nothing has been done for the last 12 years since Obama started and said he would do it. Why do you think you can get something done in Congress now? After 12 years of attempts and failures? Thank you.

LT: All right. Well, thanks for the question.

AG: Thank you for the question. And it’s a good question. And you know, I, I certainly didn’t create the health care system here in Alaska. I was born and raised in Juneau, and wanted nothing more than just to come back to my hometown and raise my kids there and be a doctor there. And I had really no knowledge whatsoever, the economic side of health care, when I finished my residency, that’s not something they teach you at all. And I had to start a practice from scratch when I got to Juneau, in order cabinets and carpets start a small business. And of course, I walked into one of the higher paying, or higher reimbursing healthcare systems in the entire country. And of course, I did well, I worked really hard throughout my career contrary to what Mr. Force article implied, but I’m a really hard working guy. And of course, he did well and ended up financially secure, but I saw what it was doing to my colleagues, many of whom are commercial fishermen and small business owners. And I saw what it was doing to the state of Alaska, consuming almost a third of the state budget, leading towards wage stagnation towards our teachers and our public safety officers, and seeing those people leaving the state. And I stepped up because I really care about the state and I wanted to get involved with trying to help fix the system. You’re right, Congress has been very ineffective at addressing this issue, and has become more and more partisan and splitting apart more and more. And I think keeping my independent affiliation really puts me into a situation where I can bring people together to mediate this problem. And healthcare is certainly not my only issue. My issue is Alaska and bringing jobs and a vibrant economy back to the state. That’s my number one, number two and number three priority when I get there, but bringing civility back to the United States Senate, restoring confidence in government, and solving some of these other really important issues, like addressing climate change, or other really big priorities of mine.

LT: And we’re also going to get to a whole bunch of those other priorities in the second half of the show. I do have just a couple more questions that came in on health care, and then we’ll move on, one from Randall in Fairbanks. He says, “Do you think we need more doctors the pandemic has brought to light that the US has fewer hospitals and health care providers compared to places like South Korea. What would more doctors bring health care costs down and what would be the way to accomplish that?”

AG: Well, first of all, more health care doesn’t necessarily mean that our health, health is a cost. concept that is built upon a lot of issues other than just health care. There are places in Alaska where people are underserved. And there are not enough physicians. But we’re fortunate that we have critical access hospitals here in Alaska, I believe we have 13 of them that are not at risk of closure as many of the small hospitals in the lower 48,  some of these hospitals have chosen to employ physicians, such as in Petersburg. And I think that that’s a good solution to work towards filling that void. But we need to make sure we have adequate representation of medical providers all over the state. And, you know, as you know, in Rural Alaska, a lot of that is provided by our native health system, which is a tremendous asset to our state, and non participants of the native system are still allowed to participate in those more rural areas. And I’d be a strong supporter to keep promoting that.

LT: All right, let’s move on to the Coronavirus. There have been more than 200,000 deaths in the US now from COVID-19. NPR reported this morning that we are 5% of the population worldwide but make up 20% of the deaths. What do you think has gone wrong in the response?

AG: Well, the federal government has not led by example, in any good way. And I support the loans for the small businesses and the unemployment insurance that was provided. But you know, our president’s not wearing a mask. He’s not promoting good public health behavior. I really believe people should be wearing masks when they’re indoors, and we need to socially distance when we’re when we’re outdoors. And also, you know, of course, the federal government sat on the knowledge that this was a terrible virus for at least a couple of months before they got motivated to do anything about it. So we’re way behind on personal protective equipment, and coronavirus testing. When my daughter came back from overseas she was in the Peace Corps and had been in Zambia for 18 months. And when she came back to Alaska in March, she got COVID tested and it took 18 days to get the result from her test was completely unacceptable. And I know that the testing is much more rapid now. But our federal government’s response to this was way too little and way too late.

LT: Do you think the federal government should have instituted a nationwide mandate on masks?

AG: No, I don’t believe that the federal government should have mandated masks. But I think that if they lead by example, people would follow their leader if they if President Trump hadn’t spent so much time convincing people that what they see on the news is fake, and that they should distrust everything that they hear on the news or from the federal government, then I think people would be much more inclined to follow federal leadership and practice the public health policies. And I think, you know, as I said, I’m a strong supporter of states rights. And I think Alaska is very different than Ohio. And the way that we manage Coronavirus in Alaska should be different than other states. But the general principles or the public health principles should be the same.

LT: Vaccines usually take years to develop and test before they’re widely available to the public. There may be one available sometime later this winter. Are you concerned that it’s being rushed?

AG: Well, I’m very concerned that it’s being rushed because as a physician, I do understand that it takes a long time to develop a safe vaccine and I’m concerned that our profit driven healthcare industry is rushing to put a vaccine on the table that may not be well tested.

LT: Once one is available, how long do you think it will be until we really get this virus under control, especially if a lot of Alaskans don’t trust vaccinations?

AG: Well, a lot of vaccines don’t really work that well. You know, influenza vaccines is notorious for that and this is a Coronavirus and Coronavirus is going to mutate so they’ll build a vaccine for one it’ll mutate into another so I think we’re not going to get a handle on the Coronavirus for at least another year, and we’re going to see its economic fallout here in the state well past next summer.

LT: Alright, we need to take a quick break and when we come back we will continue our conversation with independent US Senate candidate AG as Talk of Alaska continues statewide.

LT: Welcome back to talk of Alaska. I’m LT. And my guest today is US Senate candidate independent AG. He’s on the line with us from Anchorage. I’m gonna ask one more question and then we’ll go back to the phones. Last week, US Attorney General bill Barr said his quote was, “You know, putting a national lockdown stay at home orders is like house arrest other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint. This is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history”. What’s your reaction to the Attorney General comparing slavery where human beings were bought, sold, raped and murdered? To the shutdowns?

AG: Yeah, I don’t think that they’re comparable at all. And, you know, I think it’s completely wrong to compare one to the other. I do believe in personal rights and states rights. But we have a worldwide pandemic that’s threatening all of us. And it’s threatening our entire economy. And so we need to come together as a nation and practice  good public health policy. before we’re going to get through this.

LT: And do you think that the shut downs were a good idea in order to address that?

AG: Well, I think we lost something like 30,000 people in New York City alone in a very short period of time, this was a huge threat to life in our country. And so like all the other countries in the world, we needed to address this abruptly and I think shut down initially was appropriate, while the federal government scrambled to get personal protection devices or equipment, and adequate testing. And so initially, yes, but I think it lasted too long.

LT: Alright, let’s go back to the phones for a moment. Dennis is in Juneau, Hello.

CALLER: Hello, I’m sure Dr. Gross, who did a great job on my ministers, can do as good a job in the Senate. And I have a question and it relates to this. I am one of those people who’s a small business person involved in the tourism industry. I have two single proprietor businesses, and I’m the only employee, one is a bed and breakfast. The other is a tour business. I don’t expect either one of them to be operating until 2022. Yesterday, Holland America may not halt America, Carnival Corporation laid off 7000 officers and crew. And they sold working ships in the last two months. And I read the travel industry trade press. I don’t think we’re going to have a recovery of the travel industry, especially the way the cruise industry behaves for another two years. So what can you do? And what can Congress do to help out people all over the country who are working in businesses that are not going to recover right away until we have travel available again. And, you know, this isn’t the only tourism destination in the country. They’re all over the country. And I can tell you from being on Airbnb, discussion forums, they’re hurting everybody all over the country. So what can he do? And what can Congress do to make sure that we get at least one more round of stimulus and that the economy keeps going? And how are you going to pay for it? And my answer, of course, is to tax those rich people that have made money since the tax cuts in 1980. But that’s my answer. I’d like to hear a doctor.

LT: All right. Thank you, Dennis, for that question. I’m glad that he raised that because I did want to move to that. You have been critical in campaign ads, of CARES Act spending. Dennis’s asking what you would do is saying he thinks this is going to go on. And you as well just alluded moments ago that even when a vaccine is available, it’s going to be quite a long time before the economy comes back. Why were you critical of Kazakh spending? What’s your concern about that? And what do you think the answer is going to have to be going forward?

AG: Well, thanks for your question, Dennis. And first of all, I’m glad your knees are doing really well, that makes me happy. You know, I’m a, I’m fiscally conservative. And I don’t think the federal government should just be printing money, it’s going to be terrible for our national debt. And I do believe that the federal government, small business loans were a very good idea. And the unemployment insurance initially was a good idea, too. But you know, keeping that high is an incentive for people to stay on, stay unemployed. And we need to have opportunities for people to go back to work. And of course, right now, that involves healthcare, because a lot of people are going to stay on public assistance, because they can obtain Medicaid health insurance by doing so rather than venture back into the workforce, and have to pay really, really expensive premiums for private health insurance. So I think health insurance is part of the solution to the problem. I believe that there are a lot of infrastructure projects here in Alaska, they could be funded, and people could go back to work to help make those projects happen. And if we can get insurance away from it being employer based, then we can foster things like innovation so that people aren’t stuck in jobs that they don’t want. And they have the opportunity to be innovative with new benefit businesses and create other economies here in the state. And, as you well know, everyone is working virtually now, because of COVID. And there are a lot of job opportunities that Alaska that could be that could be realized if people had adequate internet all over the state.

LT: Well, let’s talk a little bit more about that. We’ve seen some economies, you know, try to reopen and then the case number spike, and they have to shut back down again. Some economists say now is not the time to worry about the deficit, if we want to get this virus under control, and really keep the economy from sliding into depression. The federal and state governments need to support people in businesses. One economist many months ago, Robert Reich said the federal government should give a livable amount of cash directly to people so they can stay home, pay health insurance for Americans for six months, do you think that could have worked kept people in their homes still spending money to keep the economy going and get the virus in check?

AG: Well, of course, I grew up around the birth of the permanent fund dividend. And I was very literally on a duck hunting trip with my father and Jay Hammond when it was born. So I’m very invested in the idea of people getting a check to share the wealth of the state, and to do this in a situation like COVID-19 to help them get by the economic problems that people are seeing today. But if we keep adding to the national debt, we are certainly going to have runaway inflation at some point. And Dan Sullivan and President Trump’s tax cuts several years ago, doubled the national debt and you know, that needs to be fixed, the rich need to be paying more into the system. And yes, we are going to have to keep funding of people that are unable to go back to work. And so our debt will get larger, but I think we should work hard to minimize that and provide opportunities for people to get back to work.

LT: Alright, let’s move on to resource development. You’re against the Pebble Mine. Is that correct?

AG: That’s correct.

LT: What about the donlin gold mine prospect?

AG: You know, that’s very similar to the pebble in my mind and in that the people in the Y-K Delta still have not signed on to the donlin project. And I think that the donlin mind executives have worked very, very hard for the last 20 years to work out a partnership with the people in the Y-K area so that they’re satisfied with the environmental protections of the mine. I don’t think that their year there. I don’t think that they are there yet. But when they get there, I will be a supporter of it. But right now I’m not.

LT: Yesterday, Alaska Public Media published a story about comments made by Pebble CEO Tom Collier telling environmentalists who were acting as potential investors that they didn’t need to worry about Alaska’s US senators because they would not act against the mind. Northern dynasty CEO Ron Thiessen also made comments about the mine’s production life being much longer than 20 years. Are you aware of the story and if so, What do you think about it? Do you think comments like this should affect the permitting process? Or is it just unseemly comments by CEOs trying to attract investors?

AG: Well, Tom Collier has known all along, that the intent of double partnership is to turn the Alaska Peninsula into a mining district and to turn that mine into something 20 times larger than what they’ve proposed. And incorporating Donlin into it, basically talking about the whole West Coast and Alaska Peninsula. And Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski have been well aware of this, as you saw from the comments about Dan Sullivan, they’ve got him in the corner. He’s agreed not to talk about it. They’ve got him right where they want him on this issue. And that’s just wrong. That’s not standing up for Alaska. It’s not standing up for Alaskans, and Dan Sullivan, has known all along that this mine was supposed to be this enormous development, if he really was speaking up for Alaskan’s, he would have stood up against this a long time ago. And if he really believes that the mind should not proceed, and he should return the many, many thousands of dollars he’s received in campaign contributions from the Pebble Mine executives. And yes, I think that this should factor into whether the mind should be permitted or not, because they’ve laid their cards on the table and then let people know what their true intentions are.

LT: Let’s stay on the subject of resource development for a moment. You’re supportive of opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Anwar, to exploration and development, is that correct?

AG: You know, I do support resource development up there. I know it can be done in a way that’s safe for the environment, and good for our state’s economy. And as Alaska Senator, I will do everything I can to make sure we protect our land while accessing the resources that we have.

LT: The Chin and their supporters have fought this for decades because of concerns over caribou that they depend on. And they have for generations. How much say should the Athabaskan people who oppose drilling and Anwar have in this development?

AG: Well, I think they should be at the table. I think that their concerns should be listened to, and worked around, you know, the porcupine caribou herd up there is really, really important to them. And they should be part of the discussion as to how to safely develop the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But I think it’s with the ability to space out the drilling rigs and horizontal drilling techniques. And having seen how well, companies have developed Prudhoe Bay in the areas around there, I really believe it can be done safely and protect the caribou at the same time.

LT: Alright, let’s go back to the phones for a moment. James is in Anchorage. Hi, James.

CALLER: Yeah. Hi, guys. Thanks for taking my question here. My name is James Stevens. I have I’m a cannabis entrepreneur. And my question for you is how are you going to protect like the grassroots brick and mortar companies, when federal legalization comes and takes away a lot of these tax paying jobs, as well as like tax revenue for the state? Um, it’s going to be pretty cumbersome when they come on board and kind of push around these little guys who have put lots and lots of money into these companies, just to get bullied out. I’d like to know how are you going to try and protect us on that, as well as if you have your finger on the heartbeat of when that might be coming?

AG: You know, I don’t fully understand your question, because I’m not sure why you would be pushed out. But I am a strong supporter of federal legalization of cannabis and in solving the federal banking restrictions that I know that many of you are having to work around. And as a Senator, I do whatever I could to protect the small businesses here in the state, because I really, really respect that you’re one of the only industries here in the state that has had any growth. And I have great respect for small business owners who took the risk, took out loans, or borrowed money from brands because they couldn’t get it from the bank to start up these businesses. So please work with me when I get there. And I’ll do everything I can to help protect the small businesses here in the state.

LT: All right, thanks, James for the call. Let’s go now to Patok in Eagle River. Hello.

CALLER: Hi. Yes, this is Patok Martin from Eagle River. And I just want to say that you call the tears act, a bailout in advertisements. And when Chuck Schumer wants to attack, tar Sweeney, with bass, baseless accusations, I just want to know why you were silent.

AG: I don’t know that I was silent about the CARES act. And I think that the CARES Act delivered a lot of badly needed funds to The Alaska Native corporations and the tribes. And I know some of that still in court as to how that’s going to be distributed. But the corporation’s are very much set up in a different way than the tribes. And I think both the tribes and the corporations can help make sure that the CARES Act funding gets to the people.

LT: Let’s go back to the phones quickly here for another call from Juneau. Tom is on the line from Juneau Hello.

CALLER: Hi, thank you. Thanks for the program. And thanks for being on the program Dr .Gross. Like most Alaskans, I like to shoot my own firearms and all of the shooters I know. For decades, see universal background check says gun registration. If you were elected, what would you do to prevent universal background checks from becoming federal law? Please?

AG: Yeah, well, thanks. And you know, I was just in Juneau a couple days ago, it was great to be back in my hometown. I’m a responsible gun owner, I have been since I was a young kid, I’ve shot a lot of moose and deer and birds over the course of my life. And my kids have all hunted as well. And it’s a really big part of my life. And I like as I said before, I’m not about to ban any weapons, or but I do support military background checks for military assault weapons, I think that is more than reasonable. I do not background checks for all guns. I’ve walked into stores and bought a shotgun and walked out to go bird hunting. I mean, I think it’s something that we should be able to do. And I’m a strong supporter of states rights. If states want to curtail or Institute background checks on a more developed level than I’m in favor of letting them do that. You know, I think the largest cause of death from firearms, and of course, is suicide here in our country. And I’m also a supporter of funding public health for studying this problem, because that’s by far and away the biggest cause of death from firearms.

LT: So, you would not be supportive of any sort of background checks for most firearms.

AG: I don’t see a reason to. No, I do support background checks for military assault weapons.

LT: What about a waiting period? If somebody you mentioned walking into the hardware store and buying a gun? Do you think that that should be the standard that folks should be able to just walk in, buy a gun on the spot and walk out?

AG: If it’s not a military assault weapon? Yes.

LT: Alright. Well, let’s move on. Again. The state is fighting the federal government in court right now over subsistence, the Federal subsistence board closed game management unit 13 to non subsistence users in July, and also issued a special hunt for the community of cake and se. The Federal restrictions could become more frequent in the future when you consider poor fish runs habitat challenges for moose and caribou. So what do you think the answer is here for these types of conflicts between state tribes and the federal government?

AG: Well, I’m a strong supporter of indigenous rights for subsistence, you know, they’ve been here for many thousands of years. And we need to respect their culture. And so as a Senator, I will continue to do that as best I can.

LT: And next year is the 50th anniversary of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. What are your thoughts about how this has worked out over the last five decades, both for Alaska Native people and the state and federal governments?

AG: Well, I think it’s been great. I think it’s been a real opportunity for Alaska Natives. It’s empowered them to get involved on a business level. And many of these, the leaders of these corporations, of course, are very, very well educated with MBAs from institutions like Stanford, and they’re leading their people in No very, very positive manner and you know, with the legislation that gives Alaska Natives an opportunity for business development. And I support that.

LT: Let’s go back to the phones for a moment. Rob is in Ketchikan. Hi, Rob.

CALLER: Hey, Good morning Dr. Al, there’s a topic that’s coming up now, because of the Supreme Court vacancy, I think it’s going to get some attention. So let’s address the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, the majority justice at the time stated in essence, quote, unquote, if we knew when human life began, then this decision would fail. Now, during the ensuing 47 years, science and forensics have advanced to the point of establishing the factual answer to the question. Science says, at the moment of conception, a new human life is created with half of the DNA contributed by the mother and half of the Father. So my question is, do you support the pre-borns right to life? Or do you recognize any rights that the Father may have, or any of the four grandparents may have in the decision to either kill or not kill the preborn anti life? And the last part of the question, does the government have the responsibility to protect innocent human life at all stages of life? And I appreciate your comments.

LT: Thanks for the question, Rob.

AG: No, that’s a good question. And it’s obviously a very volatile question. And you know, my experience as a doctor, I’ve been around so many life and death decisions, I took care of 95 year old people with broken hips, who the last thing that they would want is to have the government come in and tell them whether or not they should live or die. And I’ve taken care of a lot of people with cancer with the same issue. And beginning of life issues are no different to me, they’re very, very complicated. They’re always personal. They, in my opinion, the government has no role to go in between the decision that a patient makes between or with their doctor on this issue there. It’s never, it’s never an easy issue. It’s not something that I can see myself telling someone else what to do with their body. And that’s really the bottom line.

LT: Let’s move on to climate change. We only have a few moments left here. And I’d like to get a few more questions about other topics. Climate change is happening in Alaska at a much faster rate than other parts of the planet. Do you agree with scientists about why it’s happening? That human activity is the main driver?

AG: Yes, I do believe that humans are contributing towards climate change, we’re emitting a lot of carbon into our atmosphere, which acts as a blanket and holding the heat in. So certainly we are contributing towards it. I also do believe in geological trends. So I think it’s probably a combination of both. But I think that the human element is something that we can control and should work towards, towards remedy.

LT: Against that backdrop, what would you propose for US policy to address it? and under what kind of timeline?

AG: Well, I certainly would not put an absolute timeline on our addressing yet. And that’s one of the reasons why I do not support the green New Deal. But I do support moving towards renewable, clean energy as a means of diversifying our energy plan and are both in our state and our country. And there’s so many opportunities to do that. And they create jobs. And so I think that would be a really good thing for Alaska. But as I’ve said many, many times, as long as there’s a world as long as there’s a worldwide demand for oil, and Alaska continues to have our oil reserves, we should continue to produce oil because it’s been good for our state to provide a jobs, it’s provided an economic basis for our for our state economy and one of the sole sources of revenue to the state.

LT: You said that you don’t support the US House Resolution titled The green New Deal. What don’t you like about it? Have you read it?

AG: I don’t like the carbon pricing. I don’t think we should put a price on carbon that’ll cost jobs in Alaska. And I don’t like the timetable, where there’s an absolute deadline. So I do like the idea of job creation through renewable energy. But the restrictions on it are two absolute, but I do think we should join back up with the Paris Climate accord. It’s non binding, but it puts us at the table alongside all the other countries that are very concerned about this, to discuss the issues and try to come up with solutions.

LT: Let’s talk for a moment about immigration. You were quoted in a recent online article saying “With so many Americans out of work, we should focus on putting Americans back to work before allowing foreign people to come in unless there are jobs that aren’t fillable by people who live here.” So what do you mean by that only housekeepers and landscapers should be allowed to immigrate?

AG: No, I think, you know, I think Americans should come first when it comes to employment. And if we are unable to find people to fill the jobs, then if there are people from out of this country that want to come here to fill those jobs, then I think there should be a mechanism to let them in. But right now with so many people unemployed, with COVID, and as our earlier caller mentioned, this is going to be extending for at least another year, we need to make sure that we get Americans back to work, rather than flooding the market with a lot of people who are looking for jobs in competition with Americans.

LT: So what should immigration policy look like? What would you like to see?

AG: Well, I’d like to see an enforceable policy. If you’re in this country illegally, you should be deported. I’d like to see a policy that admits people who want to come into our country to contribute to our country and give back and pay taxes and pay into Social Security. And, and then, of course, you know, through the h1 a visa program, there should be a mechanism to bring skilled professionals to this country to fill jobs that aren’t fillable through our local workforce, for example, many of the hospitals down south use medical providers from out of this country because they’re unable to staff, their hospitals with medical providers that are American. And so I’m a strong supporter of keeping that avenue open. And of course, the htb visa program brings in a lot of farmworkers and seafood processing workers. And we’re unable to fill those jobs with locals so we should be very much working to preserve those programs.

LT: We have an email question from john W. Who says Do you have an opinion on the concept of rank choice voting? And do you believe that system would afford you the ability to run as a true independent measures? That’s not I

AG: think, I think any initiative where the Democratic Party and the Republican Party are against it probably is a sign that it might be a good initiative. And it allows for the smaller party people or the smaller represented people to stand up and be heard. So I will be voting yes on that.


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LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.
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Lori Townsend is the news director and senior host for Alaska Public Media. You can send her program ideas for Talk of Alaska and Alaska Insight at or call 907-350-2058.

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