U.S. House candidates talk fish, energy and bipartisanship in televised debate

Four political candidates stand at podiums in front of Alaskan and American flags.
Candidates for U.S. House take questions at Debate for the State, produced by Alaska Public Media, KTOO and Alaska’s News Source on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022. (Photo by Hailey Barnes)

Watch the full debate here.

The four candidates for Alaska’s lone U.S. House seat sparred over fish, energy and partisan politics at Wednesday’s Debate for the State. 

During the hour-long debate at Alaska Public Media’s studio, incumbent Rep. Mary Peltola, a Democrat who is filling the remainder of the late Don Young’s term, highlighted work she is already doing in office. That includes a bill aimed at addressing food insecurity among veterans, which passed with significant bipartisan support.

Peltola called partisan division the “number one threat to our country.” 

“I think that we have a tradition now in America of tearing one another down just to get into office,” she said. “We need more peacemakers. So that the day after the election, half the country doesn’t feel like they lost. We are all going to win. We’re all in this together.”

Libertarian Chris Bye’s answers reflected a preference for small government and localizing control of Alaska’s resources. He said both major parties have left Alaskans behind.

And while Republican Nick Begich III said he’d support any legislation that benefits Alaskans, he drew a stark line between his party and Democrats.

“Republicans want to give you more freedom, they will put more money in your pocket,” he said. “Democrats want to take freedom from you. They want to centralize government, they want to tax you more. And Mary Peltola has been a part of that.”

Fellow Republican Sarah Palin avoided criticizing Peltola during the debate. The former governor said despite their very different platforms, she valued her friendship with Peltola and the productive working relationship they shared in Juneau.

“It is heartening to get to stand beside somebody who gets it. Maybe it’s kind of that ‘Alaskan chick thing’,” she said, referring to their common experiences as commercial fishermen and being pregnant at the same time while in office. “Somebody like Mary and I who can get along, let that be an example.”

Instead, Palin took shots at Begich, accusing him of being funded by special interests. A few times she reminded voters she has close ties to former President Donald Trump. 

“My only special interest is Alaska. It’s you. I have nothing to lose by running for Congress.” she said. “President Trump, when he called me right after the untimely passing of our representative, he said, ‘Hey Sarah, you don’t have anything to lose. What more can they do to us?’”

Palin and Begich both criticized the Biden administration for what they called a manufactured energy crisis due to a conservative approach to Arctic drilling. Both argued that increasing Alaska’s oil production is the way out of current historic inflation and high fuel prices. Begich specifically targeted a bloated budget.

“We also need to make sure that government spending is in control, the government is put back in its lane and the private sector is not vilified as it has been under Democrats,” Begich said.

While Palin in particular painted the Biden administration as anti-development, Peltola was more optimistic. She said she’s working with Alaska’s senators to push the Biden administration forward on the Willow project, the largest proposed oil and gas project on federal lands, which has been mired in legal challenges and an environmental review process. 

“With inflation and the costs that we’re paying for energy, it’s critical that we open the Willow project and I have been very clear about that,” she said.

Alaska Public Media, KTOO and Alaska’s News Source produced the debate, which aired statewide on television and radio.

Find more election coverage and voter resources at alaskapublic.org/elections.

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Kavitha George is the host of Alaska Morning News at Alaska Public Media. She also reports on business, labor and the economy. Reach her at kgeorge@alaskapublic.org.