Nick Begich speaks to members of the Kenai and Soldotna Chambers of Commerce before a candidate forum on Aug. 3, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Peninsula Clarion/Jake Dye)

Nick Begich speaks to members of the Kenai and Soldotna Chambers of Commerce before a candidate forum on Aug. 3, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Peninsula Clarion/Jake Dye)

Peltola, Begich trade views at chamber forum

The two candidates are vying to fill former Rep. Don Young’s seat

Congressional hopefuls Nick Begich III and Mary Peltola brought their bid for the U.S. House of Representatives to the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center on Wednesday, where they fielded questions submitted in advance by chamber members.

Both Begich and Peltola emerged as front-runners during Alaska’s 2022 Special Primary Election, in which Alaskans selected from 48 candidates vying to finish out the term of the late Rep. Don Young, who died in March. Along with former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and nonpartisan Al Gross, Begich and Peltola were among the top four vote-getters in that election, and thus were all eligible to advance to the Aug. 16 special general election.

Gross dropped out of the race shortly after the results of the special primary were announced, so Alaska voters will rank Begich, Peltola and Palin on their special general election ballot. This election season is the first in Alaska to use a nonpartisan top four primary structure and to use ranked choice voting, under which voters can choose more than one candidate in ranked order.

As part of the forum on Wednesday, which was moderated by Merrill Sikorski, Begich and Peltola were given time to provide opening and closing remarks and one minute each to respond to questions.

Begich is a Republican who previously served as the co-chair for Young’s 2020 reelection campaign and for the Alaska Republican Party’s Finance Committee. Peltola is a Democrat who represented Bethel in the Alaska Legislature for 10 years. The two are running to both finish out Young’s current term and to be Alaska’s sole U.S. representative for the subsequent term.

When asked what their top priorities for Alaska in Congress would be, Begich placed emphasis on state resource development and bringing inflation down, while Peltola said she’d focus on getting the Port of Alaska funded and codifying safe and legal abortion.

Begich said trillions of dollars in national debt owned by foreign nations and supply chain issues are among the nation’s biggest security threats, while Peltola pointed to partisanship and Chinese tariffs, which she said have limited the manufacturing and availability of semiconductors. Both also voiced their concern about continued Russian aggression in Europe.

Both candidates said they oppose members of Congress and their immediate family members trading individual stocks, said it’s too soon to say who they’d support to be the next Speaker of the House and emphasized the need for Alaska’s next representative to work across the aisle.

Peltola and Begich both described themselves as strong supporters of the Second Amendment, though they had different opinions on gun control. Peltola said there exists an “epidemic of gun violence” and called for both sides of the issue to work together on basic issues, such as legal definitions of things like “assault rifle.” Begich said he believes in the “sanctity” of the U.S. Constitution and that he does not believe more restrictions on guns are needed.

The two candidates also had different opinions on energy development in Alaska and both offered their opinions on the Alaska LNG Project. That project, if completed, would move gas from the North Slope to Nikiski with the goal of making more natural gas available to Alaskans in Southcentral.

Peltola said she views shipping natural gas overseas through the Arctic to meet European demand as an “exciting alternative” to the Alaska LNG project. She also called oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge a project that is “dying on the vine.”

“I think that on its own, it is not economically attractive to producers and I’m not sure we can do anything about ANWR, at this point,” Peltola said.

Begich, who said the Alaska LNG project should be pursued “aggressively,” pushed back.

“I think we absolutely have to open up all areas for development and exploration,” Begich said when asked about whether he supports oil and gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. “When you talk about ANWR, I don’t think we want politicians telling us what’s economic and what’s not economic. Let’s let the private sector tell us what’s economic.”

During closing remarks, both candidates reiterated their commitment to Alaska.

Begich took a jab at Palin’s lack of attendance at Wednesday’s forum, and said he ultimately believes “in the promise of Alaska.”

“There’s only one voice in the Congress out of 435,” Begich said of Alaska’s representative. “That person’s got to be persuasive, they’ve got to be articulate (and) they’ve got to be willing to show up, which is also important. If you want to build the kind of relationships that we need as a state, you’ve got to be there. I want to be that voice for you.”

Peltola used her closing remarks to talk about her family and what she called her “vested interest” in Alaska’s success.

“Despite how diverse our state is, we all have a common future,” Peltola said. “It’s in all of our best interest to work together as one and I would love to work on your behalf.”

Early voting for Alaska’s special general election started on Aug. 1. Election day is Aug. 16. On that day Alaskans will rank Palin, Peltola and Begich for the special general election on one side of the ballot, and will vote in Alaska’s regular primary election on the other side.

Sample ballots by state legislative district can be found on the Alaska Division of Elections website at elections.alaska.gov.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

Nick Begich and Mary Peltola sit for a candidate forum at the Kenai Visitor Center on Aug. 3, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Peninsula Clarion/Jake Dye)
Nick Begich and Mary Peltola sit for a candidate forum at the Kenai Visitor Center on Aug. 3, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Peninsula Clarion/Jake Dye)

Nick Begich and Mary Peltola sit for a candidate forum at the Kenai Visitor Center on Aug. 3, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Peninsula Clarion/Jake Dye) Nick Begich and Mary Peltola sit for a candidate forum at the Kenai Visitor Center on Aug. 3, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Peninsula Clarion/Jake Dye)

Mary Peltola responds to a question during a forum at the Kenai Visitor Center on Aug. 3, 2022 in Kenai, Alaska. (Peninsula Clarion/Jake Dye)

Mary Peltola responds to a question during a forum at the Kenai Visitor Center on Aug. 3, 2022 in Kenai, Alaska. (Peninsula Clarion/Jake Dye)

Nick Begich and Mary Peltola answer questions at a candidate forum at the Kenai Visitor Center on Aug. 3, 2022 in Kenai, Alaska. (Peninsula Clarion/Jake Dye)

Nick Begich and Mary Peltola answer questions at a candidate forum at the Kenai Visitor Center on Aug. 3, 2022 in Kenai, Alaska. (Peninsula Clarion/Jake Dye)

Nick Begich and Mary Peltola answer questions at a candidate forum at the Kenai Visitor Center on Aug. 3, 2022 in Kenai, Alaska. (Peninsula Clarion/Jake Dye)

Nick Begich and Mary Peltola answer questions at a candidate forum at the Kenai Visitor Center on Aug. 3, 2022 in Kenai, Alaska. (Peninsula Clarion/Jake Dye)

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