Ahead of Tuesday’s election, the Clarion is publishing interviews with candidates vying to represent Alaskan communities. In our final set of interviews, we talked to Republican Rep. Don Young and Independent challenger Alyse Galvin, who are competing for Alaska’s only seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. The seat has been held by Young for 45 years.
Question: What would be your first priority as congresswoman, should you be elected?
Answer: Health care. I would like to put out the fires in health care that I think we can do right away. Then, I would also like to work toward a bigger plan, so that every Alaskan and American is covered and can afford coverage for primary care and mental health care, at the very least.
Q: With more and more school and mass shootings being reported in recent years, how do you think America can keep their school’s safe?
A: I agree that we’re in a time right now where parents are afraid to send their kids to school and kids are frightened. It’s not the kind of environment I would want for anyone who is about to learn. It’s very difficult for people to learn when they are in fear. Certainly, arming teachers is not the answer. I firmly believe that we need to retain our Second Amendment rights. In Alaska, this is a really important issue to so many, because of our need to bring protein to the table and also to protect it for sport. So keeping that in place, I think there are some things that we can do to create space for us to feel safer. One is background checks. We know 21 states already have that in place. I want to make sure we’re part of that. Then, I would like to also fully support the Centers for Disease Control to see what exactly is best in reducing deaths by firearms. For example in Alaska, more than half of our firearm deaths are by suicide. So for here, I would really want to make sure we would be resourcing mental health care. I would want to really study up and make science-based decisionmaking on any policy therein, while fully protecting our rights to bear arms.
Q: Reproductive health continues to dominate congressional conversation, with some people hoping to overturn Roe vs. Wade and defund Planned Parenthood. Where do you stand on these issues?
A: It’s everybody’s concern. We certainly need to make sure that the laws we have in place are firmly upheld. I think in this case, we know it’s a very personal decision, what you choose for your care, and for some, it’s a religious decision. That should remain within the domain of a woman and her caregiver, and we need to make sure that all citizens have information and have access to healthy care. Whatever it takes to make that happen, I support. I think education is going to be a key piece when it comes to having fewer unplanned pregnancies. I don’t think that’s what makes a healthy society. I think, ultimately, we want to make sure that we’re aware of our bodies in an age-appropriate way. As a mom of four, I’ll say that I supported all along my children understanding their bodies and I would want their peers to have that same knowledge, and also understand what a safe relationship is. It’s one thing to know biologically, your body, but it’s also important to know what the signs are of healthy engagement with friends. I really want the best for every child.
Q: Many states have legalized marijuana in the last few years, including Alaska. Canada just legalized cannabis on a national level. How do you see the future of recreational cannabis in this country, in this state?
A: Alaskans have voted and it’s legal here. My concern is that the small business owners are having to carry a lot of cash and it’s not safe. I would like to work on laws to ensure that small business owners are able to conduct their business safely. It’s a lot of cash. I would like to make sure that where cannabis is effective medicinally, that it’s available. One thing that comes to mind is our veterans. My understanding is that it’s working quite well for some type of PTSD and other things. I just want to make sure that it’s legally available and affordable as a medicine when it’s appropriate. I would also like to have cannabis studied more, particularly the use of cannabis among children, so that we have a good understanding of how it is affecting our youth. I think that will ultimately bring our community to a more accepting environment of safe ways of doing business if we’re also working to keep our children safe.
Q: The Kenai Peninsula and Alaska’s economy has long been dependent on oil and gas. What will you do to boost the economy here beyond oil and gas?
A: I would like to see all of Alaska do more with their energy as one avenue of diversifying. I think we are seeing great examples of homes being built using local energy, whether it’s geo or solar, wind or hydro even. They’re expensive on the front end, but they save us on the back end. In some rural communities, it’s been a great opportunity for elders to be able to afford to live in their community in perpetuity because the price of utilities is so much. There are other things we can do, and maybe already do, but could do better. For example, our tourism. In Fairbanks, the tourism industry has managed to change up their revenue streams so that more than 45 percent of their dollars are coming in the winter time. They just got smarter about it. Let’s see what we have. We have the northern lights. Let’s make relationships with China, other parts of Asia and change up our airport. That’s where I would come into play, if there’s a need with the infrastructure piece. Now they’re getting almost half of their revenue stream in the wintertime. I think about what the Kenai Peninsula could do in the wintertime. It’s pretty fun out here. I don’t think that they are marketing it much. That might be one area, to look at what you’re doing well, and be innovative about it. Tourism is certainly here in the summertime, but maybe there’s a way for us to explore what could happen in the wintertime in this area. Another would be innovations in doing things with technology. I assume we have proper broadband here. You could use those internationally marketable skills, whether it’s the next iPhone app, or software or whatever it is. The people here are very bright, so should they choose that innovative business, that’s possible.
Q: Where do you see the future of the Arctic Wildlife National Refuge?
A: I think it’s a refuge. While I know a bill was passed for some exploratory drilling, there will be a process for that. I think with the new technology and the drilling that we have now, it’s still possible to keep it a refuge and have much less of a footprint than what has been in the past with oil and gas drilling. That’s what I see for it. It’s going to be important for any development to be always balancing the economic advantages with the very important protections that are also critical to our people.
Q: The Trump administration decision to impose steel tariffs has had an impact on the Port of Alaska in Anchorage, which already needs significant repairs, as well as potential impacts on pipeline construction — what’s your solution to making sure Alaska’s projects can operate affordably?
A: In regard to the port, it’s absolutely true that already the costs have been hugely impacted to the tune of almost $300,000, if not more. Having a president seemingly begin a trade war without an overarching plan is a concern of mine. In Congress, it’s our job to ensure that there’s a plan to look out for any activity that’s going to be negatively impacted or threatened. The port is a great example. He put out a tweet one day and that same day there happened to be an order in from China. So it went to Canada, that steel order, which comes in encasements. I was just at the port where I got a long tour and instructional presentation about this. These are encasements that can’t be made in America right now. This port is going to collapse if there is a natural disaster, so they need to have the steel. They order them from China, it goes to Canada and as soon as it hits that port, it goes up up 25 percent. The way it’s written is that each port it goes to, it goes up another 25 percent. So it gets to Seattle next, and that’s another 25 percent. Then it headed up here. The costs were astronomical because of this seemingly unstructured plan that I think deeply affects our economy. It’s a big concern of mine that we have a grown up in the room helping to ensure that we have checks and balances.
Q: Health care costs have been rising in Alaska. What’s your plan to help create a more affordable health care system?
A: As I said, we need to put out the fires. The fires that are there are high pharmaceutical costs. We must be able to safely purchase, or a pharmacy should be able to purchase from Canada and European countries. Change that law immediately. Another is that we should be able to work across state lines with other states, states with a similar population size that will help grow our pool and will help lower costs just inherently with that alone.
There are some other major things going on that we need to make sure do not pass, pre-existing conditions being taken away, children’s health insurance. Our current congressman Don Young has voted 56 times to take away health care. That’s a big concern of mine. Fortunately, the Senate has things in check, but there’s a lot of things going on like junk insurance plans that are out there and not really benefiting our people. We have many elders who are rationing their medicine. Because even with Medicare and even with Medicare pharmaceutical supplement, many of our elders are paying hundreds of dollars and they just can’t afford those pharmaceutical costs.
Long term, which we need to start right now, we need to start finding the avenue for every Alaskan and American to find quality and affordable health care. Frankly, we’ve got an example right here in our state that I intend to bring back to Washington. It’s called the Nuka Wellness Model and it’s through the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and South Central Foundation. It’s serving more than 100,000 thousand Alaskans, and it’s inclusive of primary care, mental health, dental, vision and even specialist care. It’s serving those Alaskans for half the cost. Their wellness outcomes are so high that they’ve won international awards in three out of the last five years for many of the treatments they’ve been doing.
Sometimes we need to pay attention to what is doing well here, and not just take what the federal government thinks is best for us. Sometimes we need to bring what we think is best, and this is a really great example of that. I will offer that because I am not in anyone’s pocket; I’m not taking a dime from any corporate PACs. I’ve never taken from a pharmaceutical company or insurance company. I will have a clear conscience to make the bold, courageous decisions that need to get made when it comes to changes that will make a difference for the people of Alaska. I’m beholden to one thing and that’s the people here. I really hope everybody sees our campaign as a different approach to government. When you follow the money, it’s of the people also. I’m most excited that more people are getting enthusiastic and engaged.