Don Young has represented Alaska in the U.S. House of Representatives for the past 43 years. This year, three Democratic challengers are competing for the right to challenge him and end the career of a man who has served in the House for the 12th-longest term in American history. Among them are a reknowned Arctic scientist, a former Anchorage cabdriver, and the former head of Alaska’s public radio and television network.
Steve Lindbeck, 61, has lived in Alaska for more than 45 years and is widely considered the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination to challenge Young. That’s in part because of his financial advantage — he has raised much more money than the other candidates — but also because of his extensive portfolio of endorsements. Lindbeck has already earned the backing of Mark Begich, Vic Fischer and Robert Gottstein and many others listed on a recent campaign poster.
“It’s time for a change,” Lindbeck said as a reason for why Alaskans should vote for him.
With the state’s economy “facing challenges like we haven’t seen,” Lindbeck said the “old way of doing things” doesn’t make sense any more. “I think you need to be an advocate for Alaska’s needs at the federal level.
If elected, Lindbeck said his first priority would be a “good, strong infrastructure bill” that addresses roads, ports, and Internet access for Alaskans.
With regard to foreign policy, Lindbeck said the United States needs to “be fierce in our pursuit and routing of ISIS and protecting ourselves on the terrorist threat,” but he does not support the deployment of American troops on the ground in Syria.
He said the U.S. needs to be “very cautious, very careful toward Russia,” and “make sure Russians have respect for NATO.”
With regard to climate change, he says Alaska doesn’t have the luxury of pretending it’s not true and believes in more investment in research, including at the University of Alaska.
He says balancing the federal budget is an important issue, and that Alaskans are “pretty clear about the Second Amendment,” and he doesn’t intend to deviate from those beliefs. He said he could possibly support the Democratic proposal in Congress to make buying firearms more difficult for people on the federal no-fly list, but he’d have to make sure that list is constructed properly.
With regard to the presidential race, he declined to say whether he supported Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primary.
“I’m going to wait to see how the rest of this goes in the election before I decide who to support,” he said. “It’s clear Donald Trump is unacceptable.”
The Native voice
Lynette “Moreno” Hinz is a 58-year-old wheelchair assistant at Anchorage International Airport who was born in Sitka and keeps close tabs on Native issues and thoughts, she said.
She said she believes in giving Alaska’s Native tribes a stronger voice and is determined to support tribal sovereignty, something Don Young has not done, she said.
“Our Congressman, Don Young, doesn’t care about the (Native) shareholders, he doesn’t care about the tribal authority,” she said.
A former president of the Anchorage Tribes of Tlingit and Haida Indians of Alaska, her father was from Yakutat and her mother was from Wrangell.
She works for minimum wage (plus tips) at the airport, and she said she sees the struggle of people trying to survive on that wage. “Not only that,” she said, “they have to work two or three jobs total.”
For that reason, she supports an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, an ammount that national figures have billed as a “livable wage.”
She said she decided to enter politics when, working as a cabdriver in 2008, gasoline prices exploded to more than $5 per gallon in Anchorage. Bush residents who rode in her cab told her about the problems they were having with the high cost of living.
She organized a protest against gasoline prices and embarked on a campaign for lieutenant governor in 2010 (she didn’t win). Now, she has her eyes on higher office.
“I just decided, I’ve got to do something,” she said. “You can help change part of the future for future generations, and if you don’t do anything, nothing will happen.”
She supports continuing Arctic drilling, but only in order to allow Alaska time to switch to “clean energy like solar and wind power,” particularly in rural Alaska, she said in a candidate statement submitted to the Alaska Division of Elections.
With regard to gun control, she supports “a long waiting list with very strict requirements” in order to buy a handgun, and she believes automatic rifles and rifles with high-capacity magazines should not be sold on the Internet or in gun shops.
“I don’t think those should be in the hands of 19-year-olds,” she said.
She is a firm believer in climate change and believes the federal government should help relocate villages that are endangered by rising sea levels and erosion.
“I believe that the federal government should be stepping up to the plate and helping with those villages that need to relocate before it’s too late,” she said.
On foreign policy, she favors “a stronger military force” deployed domestically as a deterrent while America’s diplomatic corps, “with diplomats from other countries,” serves overseas.
She said she is concerned about the rate of domestic violence in rural Alaska and will “support any kind of push or implementation for tribal judges or tribal courts on domestic violence that affects women and children in the villages.”
She also would like to see Native corporations “do their part in getting our people into rehabilitation programs for alcohol and drugs,” she said. “They could’ve been helping years and years ago.”
Five years ago, William Hibler stepped down from his job as a full-time glaciologist with the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Now, he’s a firm supporter of Bernie Sanders and hoping for the chance to take on Don Young in November’s general election.
“I’m kind of being a Bernie Sanders Democrat. That’s the thrust of a lot of my stuff,” he said by phone Friday on a drive from Wasilla to Fairbanks.
Hibler, who goes by Bill, is a firm supporter of a single-payer health care system and a tariff on fossil fuels at the wellhead in order to support a homegrown American biofuels industry.
“My real issue that I’m after as a glaciologist is sea level rise,” he said.
Despite that belief, he said he supports continued oil drilling in Alaska under the belief that Alaska is a relatively small contributor to the problem of global greenhouse gas emissions. “The issue is we’ve got to get fossil fuel production down,” he said. “Drilling or not drilling in Alaska is probably not going to affect the problem much.”
If elected to office, he would commission hearings on climate change in an effort to call attention to the problem and develop solutions.
On the issue of Syria, he said the principal issue is the humanitarian crisis in the region. With regard to Russia, he called the Obama administration’s move to expand NATO toward Russia “provocative and somewhat dangerous.”
“Perhaps we can move the NATO troops to Alaska where they won’t start a war,” he suggested, half-joking.
On gun control, he suggests that he would be in favor of a limit on high-capacity magazines and a limit on the “lethality of ammunition,” but would allow states to opt out of such legislation if they wanted to.
He said he’s open to compromise and would be willing to work with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, because he believes Ryan is more moderate than many in the tea party faction of the Republican Party.
Hibler said his father was a state legislator in Missouri for 16 years, and while he personally has never run for office, he knows what it takes and has been involved in enough international scientific projects and university politics to know how politics works.
“I’m all about getting stuff done,” he said. “I’m not trying to stand back.”
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