The Kodiak Fishery debates began Monday night, with some key candidates missing.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy took a pass on the opportunity to face his challengers Monday night at the Kodiak event, which dates back at least 30 years and bills itself as the state’s only candidate debate on commercial fishing issues.
Former Gov. Bill Walker, an independent running for the seat again, said it’s a snub to the organizers and to everyone who wants to hear his views on fisheries.
“I think that’s incredibly disrespectful,” Walker said, noting that Dunleavy also skipped the event four years ago. “It might be good politics, but it’s terrible, terrible leadership to not show up.”
Les Gara, Dunleavy’s Democratic opponent, alleged the governor has reason to dodge the debate.
“Look, Governor Dunleavy has a lot of policies to run away from,” Gara said.
Dunleavy campaign spokesman Andrew Jensen said no disrespect was intended, but the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce event is not among the five debates Dunleavy agreed to.
“It’s a simple matter of prioritizing his availability, his time,” Jensen said. “Unlike the other two candidates in the race, he does still have his full-time job that he has to account for.”
Dunleavy can answer fishing questions at the other debates he is scheduled to attend, Jensen said.
The congressional debates are Tuesday night. All four candidates for U.S. House — Rep. Mary Peltola, Sarah Palin, Nick Begich and Chris Bye — have said they’ll participate.
But in the U.S Senate debate, challenger Kelly Tshibaka isn’t coming. Her campaign spokesman said she had a scheduling conflict, which he would not identify.
Eagle-eyed Alaskan Twitter user Clarice Johnson noticed that Tshibaka was in Texas Monday, attending a fundraiser with another Senate challenger — Blake Masters of Arizona. Both of them are endorsed by former President Donald Trump.
Johnson, who lives in Sitka and has retired from fishing, said it’s disappointing to see candidates skip the Kodiak debate.
“I think it just says something about their priorities, and they don’t seem to be with Alaska fishing families,” she said.
Kodiak public radio station KMXT will stream Tuesday’s night’s debates on its website.
The U.S. House candidates’ debate starts at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. Then Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski will debate Democratic challenger Pat Chesbro at 8:15.