CANDIDATE Q&A: Governor — Les Gara

The Anchorage Daily News asked candidates for statewide office in the Aug. 16 Alaska primary and special U.S. House elections to answer a series of issue and biographical questions to help voters understand their positions. Some questions were suggested by readers. Read all the responses here.

Les Gara • Party: Democrat • Occupation: Outdoors writer, consultant, former Legislator • Age: 59 • Residence: Anchorage •

Lieutenant governor running mate: Jessica Cook.

Les Gara

Relevant experience or prior offices held

State Legislator, Alaska House of Representatives; Former Alaska assistant attorney general on Exxon Valdez oil spill civil prosecution; Former Alaska Supreme Court law clerk to the late Alaska Supreme Court Justice Jay Rabinowitz in Fairbanks.

Why are you running for office?

Alaskans deserve a future of better schools, good paying jobs, and true, equal opportunity to succeed again. 20,000 more people have left Alaska than moved here under Gov. Dunleavy because they see no future for themselves or future work for their children, and no commitment to public education.

As someone who grew up in foster care, I believe everyone deserves the chance to succeed, and instead we have a state with struggling schools, years of austerity construction and community infrastructure budgets. That’s left people out of needed work, and caused many Alaskans to move to other states with their job skills.

This governor has shown a lack of commitment to protect our fish, from his misguided support of a toxic Pebble Mine, to Outside factory trawlers the governor’s nominees have allowed to dump over 1,000 tons of halibut and over 500,000 chum and King Salmon, dead, just in the Bering Sea. He’s given Outside corporations a priority over Alaska’s fish. That needs to be reversed.

Name two big problems or challenges currently facing Alaska and how you plan to address them if elected.

We need to build back job opportunity and strongly support schools people have confidence in. We should stop making people fight between those things and a strong PFD. Making people fight over the crumbs by pitting them against each other is wrong, and has created endless battles between neighbors. This governor has made us too “poor” to end these battles between Alaskans, and turned us against each other.

He’s made us poor by giving away $1.2 billion of state revenue in unjustified tax subsidies – to the wealthiest Outside corporations in the state. I’d end those unjustifiable, unaffordable corporate subsidies, and use the funds to invest in schools, energy projects including needed renewable energy projects, and a construction job, infrastructure and community project budget that puts people to work in good-paying private and public sector electrician, laborer, engineering and other jobs. That will help build strong families and communities again.

Do you believe Joe Biden legitimately won the 2020 presidential election? If you believe there was fraud, where and how do you think it took place?


Supporters of former President Donald Trump violently attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2020. Do you believe President Trump should be held responsible for the events of Jan. 6?

I’m going to focus on state issues where I can have a positive impact on people’s lives. That means creating jobs, ensuring better schools and opportunity in this state, and creating equal opportunity for all. It means a living minimum wage of at least $15/hr., not our $10.24/hr. poverty minimum wage.

The attack on the Capitol was a terrible moment in American history, and those who committed proven crimes should face the consequences. But those are all issues of federal law, not issues a governor addresses.

I want us to move forward, and as governor I won’t pretend I have the power over Congress and federal prosecutors. We have state issues that need attention, and that’s what I’ll focus on as governor. I want to unify people to address those issues, not divide people over issues a Governor has no power over.

How do you think the Permanent Fund dividend should be calculated?

The PFD should be something you can bank on, not annual false political promises. That’s what it’s been under this governor, who averaged a $1,230 PFD his first 3 years in office. Unlike Gov. Dunleavy, who voted to support the 2016 veto of the PFD, I opposed that veto and tried to override it. I knew policy by veto would cause years of battles, which is has for eight years. It’s taken focus away from jobs, schools, and rural and urban needs. I support a formula to provide a strong, real PFD you can bank on.

By ending $1.2 billion in unjustified oil company subsidies to the wealthiest corporations in the state, we could afford a strong PFD, strong schools, needed renewable energy projects & fast, affordable internet, and a construction job and infrastructure budget that keeps people working in Alaska. I’d work to build consensus on a PFD in excess of $2,000/year, that grows annually, and that doesn’t take away from schools and all our other priorities.

Would you support enacting additional taxes to cover the costs of essential government services? If not, how do you think the state should ensure it has enough revenue to cover essential services?

Not personal taxes. We should stop giving away $1.2 billion in unjustified oil company subsidies to the wealthiest Outside corporations in the state. We should stop making people fight each other and make false choices between schools, a PFD, renewable energy projects, jobs, tourism support, needed mental health and substance abuse treatment, and everything else that builds opportunity, dignity, and a brighter future. Gov. Dunleavy, who voted for the current oil tax giveaway, a statute written largely by oil companies (when he was a Senator in 2013; I voted against it), has sided with the oil industry over individual Alaskans by giving away billions we need to build a strong state and strong communities.

Do you support a constitutional convention? If so, what changes would you support making to the state constitution?

No. A Constitutional Convention would allow for delegates we don’t know. They can be funded by corporations and Outside interests, to rewrite our Constitution on any and every subject they want. It threatens to give our rights to fishing, hunting, privacy and more, away to those with the most money, including Outsiders. Alaska used to be run by Seattle fishing interests before Statehood. Today Outside Factor Trawlers already dump over 1,000 tons of Alaska halibut and salmon dead to the bottom of the ocean. A Convention could give them even more power as they fund their favorite candidates. As governor I want to roll back the damage they are causing to our fisheries. A Convention could prevent Alaskans from controlling our own state, fish, game and destiny again.

Abortion access is currently protected under the Alaska constitution. Would you support any changes to current laws governing abortion access in Alaska?

I am pro-choice, and all my opponents specifically say they are “pro-life”. I don’t believe in letting politicians tell people what private family and health decisions they can make. I won’t roll back the right to choose as governor.

Both Gov. Dunleavy, in an extremist way, and former Gov. Walker, sued to roll back the right to choose. Dunleavy sued to overturn the federal constitutional right to choose. Gov. Walker promised not to roll back the right to choose last time he was elected (he sued to roll back Medicaid coverage for low-income Alaskans). He’s made the same promise again. It’s hard to act against personal values, including his pro-life values. People can judge his promise. He is less strident than the other pro-life candidates.

Alaska can lose this right like the nation did, if we appoint future judges who’d roll those rights back. I’ll ask future judges if they’ll support our pro-choice court precedent so we don’t lose these rights in Alaska.

Do you think Alaska’s economy should be diversified? If so, how do you plan to achieve that goal?

Yes. We should have a university, voc. ed. and job training that focus on the jobs of today and the future. It requires fast, affordable internet, which we need across Alaska so people can learn and participate in the economy. While we are still in part a resource-based economy, and those jobs will continue, we can foster new jobs in tourism, renewable energy, mariculture, telework with better internet, and work with the experts, community members, and the business community to plan for a bright future economy.

We should train Alaskans to be part of our renewable energy economy, including in rural areas so local Alaskans can maintain those projects.

We are losing police, troopers, and teachers to turnover. I want Alaskans to fill these positions so they can stay in their home communities. We should re-instate a cost-effective pension plan so important workers have an incentive to stay in Alaska, and work in their own rural and urban communities.

Do you support a natural gas line project in Alaska? If so, how do you plan to promote such a project?

Yes, and to promote it honestly as clean energy done right – not falsely as clean energy done wrong. The latter will likely make this project fail yet again. The world is looking for clean energy. Buyers won’t likely sign a 20 or 30-year contract that doesn’t produce clean energy. We should strive to do this right.

As a legislator I voted for every gasline plan across party lines, by former Govs. Palin, Parnell & Walker, worked to make them stronger, and pushed to require legal Alaska-hire provisions (through project labor agreements). I’ve pushed to require affordable in-state natural gas pipeline offtakes so we can lower Alaska’s cost of energy.

I’ll use expertise from years of gasline work to put together a team to negotiate with partners who don’t want to rely on Russian gas exports.

The brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine has increased the chances Alaska gas can be exported to reliable partners in Asia. A smart project would safely store greenhouse gasses underground.

Salmon stocks have declined in recent years. Do you believe there is a need to change fishery management? If so, what changes would you support?

Yes. Fish bind Alaskans, whether we fish for subsistence, commercially or for fun. We need to protect Alaska’s fish. As a fisherman, I want to make sure we have strong fisheries into the future.

Unlike Gov. Dunleavy, I oppose the Pebble Mine – a threat to the greatest wild salmon runs in the world.

Alaska’s governor nominates, and effectively appoints the majority of the North Pacific Fishery Mgt. Council. They regulate the waters where over 1,000 tons of halibut, and over 500,000 kings and chum were wasted last year by Outside factory trawlers. My nominees will protect Alaska’s fish.

Gov. Dunleavy has allowed this waste to happen with his pro-Outside Trawler Council members. When pressured, he finally pretended to do something by appointing a “task force” with no power, that won’t issue it’s conclusions until after the election.

We need real regional representation on the Board of Fish, so Western Alaskans have a voice to address devastated Y-K region salmon runs.

Drug use is an epidemic in Alaska. What actions do you support to address this epidemic?

I’ve supported tough sentences on drug dealers and traffickers. But we need to do much more. Alaska’s substance abuse and mental health treatment system doesn’t reach Alaskans who need it. It’s underfunded and in tatters. We need to build a needed mental health workforce, and provide treatment to anyone willing to battle their addiction problems. Alaska isn’t doing that, and instead puts people on waiting lists.

We need more police and prosecutors (and then public defenders so cases don’t lag). In over 50 communities, Alaska provides no police at all, and residents and victims in those communities are unprotected. That’s 19th Century law enforcement. Every community that wants one deserves a police officer. I’ve voted to add police, Troopers and prosecutors as a legislator so crimes don’t go unprosecuted.

Mid and low level prisoners all come out of jail at some point. If they have substance abuse problems, we should treat them in prison so they are not released into the community, untreated, as potential dangers to innocent people. I’d rather they be safe and productive.

What do you see as Alaska’s greatest infrastructure needs and how do you plan to address those needs?

We should build renewable energy across Alaska. To do that, the state needs to be a partner. That will put people to work, reduce the cost of energy, and help address global warming.

We can support schools, and address an ignored $2 billion of delayed state & University maintenance projects. Relying on one year of Russian war money isn’t a “plan” for the future. Except for this election year, with war money from high oil prices, this governor has ignored all these needs. He’s let unmaintained infrastructure decay and become more expensive to repair. He’s ignored road maintenance and the Marine Highway, allowing the Ferry Malaspina, to become unrepairable. We need to repair the Port of Anchorage, and help repair and expand ports, airports and harbors across the state.

Many rural Alaskans still need safe water and sanitation, and meeting basic 21st century needs is crucial. These are things we can do by ending the $1.2 billion in oil company subsidies Gov. Dunleavy is giving away.

How do you think new resource development projects in Alaska should be balanced with the interests of environmental protection and climate change mitigation?

I don’t believe in trading fish for mines. Our current mines are responsible, but the massive, toxic Pebble Mine threatens the world’s greatest salmon runs. Dunleavy still supports this threat to our fish and fishing communities.

As long as the world demands our oil, I think we should develop it responsibly and use a fair revenue share for our oil to build green & renewable energy projects. Stopping oil production would just create a market for dirty Canadian Tar Sands oil (a greenhouse gas nightmare), or oil from countries run by dictators. Oddly, Dunleavy has let ConocoPhillips delay a major, non-controversial Pikka oilfield project for corporate anti-competitive reasons.

I have acted, and will act to address climate change. With former Rep. Bill Thomas, I wrote Alaska’s laws requiring all state, school and University buildings to be built to cost-saving “energy efficiency” standards. The cleanest fuel is the fuel you don’t burn. We can do much more.

Should transgender athletes be allowed to compete in sports according to the gender with which they identify?

40% of transgender youth consider committing suicide at some point in their life. I’m the only candidate in this race who has ever sponsored equal rights legislation to protect our LGBTQ+ neighbors at work, in housing, in public and in school. I’m proud of that. I believe all Alaskans should be treated equally, and believe in what all politicians say during the Pledge of Allegiance: “Liberty and Justice for All.”

I don’t believe in getting votes off policies targeting youth, whether LGBTQ+ or straight. There has been no instance of competitive unfairness in Alaska schools, and banning youth from school sports is a soundbite looking for a non-existent problem. I think we should let our Alaska School Activities Association continue to address this, as it has been, before we insert politicians into school policy. Politician solutions on this issue are bound to prioritize votes and division over student wellness.

The federal infrastructure bill, which was voted for by all members of Alaska’s congressional delegation, stands to bring millions in federal funding to projects in Alaska. How would you ensure Alaska maximizes the benefits of this bill?

Alaska is a relatively new state with great needs from basic sanitation, to internet, and we should do everything possible to make sure as much of this money comes to Alaska as possible. It needs to be wisely used here to improve lives and economies. I would have established an office to help Alaska communities and organizations access and successfully apply for federal grants that will put people to work, expand affordable, fast internet, and help move this state forward. Many smaller communities and organizations don’t have grant-writing expertise, and we should have been helping from day one.

Upon election we will hire the most qualified people possible, and create partnerships with experts in the community, to help Alaskans successfully apply for all the available federal funding that remains by then.

What other important issue would you like to discuss?

We have to offer children the opportunity they deserve. I’m proud to have worked to improve opportunity for Alaska’s 3,000+ foster youth, and proud of the national & state awards I’ve received (recently from the Alaska Children’s Trust) for my legislative work to help children & youth.

As a former foster youth, I know the foster care system. I won’t ignore it’s problems, like Gov. Dunleavy has. It needs to be improved. This Governor is hiring caseworkers at $24/hour to decide whether to split apart families. He’s dangerously lowered qualifications for important workers.

We need to keep families together. Last year this governor vetoed family preservation funds that I’d added as a legislator to keep families together. He’s ignored a massive loss of foster families, when the law I wrote requires the Administration to “recruit” foster and adoptive families in times of shortage. Children have wrongly been left in hospitals after they’ve recovered, because there’s no family for them.

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