Safety, PFD high on Republican governor candidates’ talking points

Crime, the Permanent Fund Dividend and state budget solutions are three of the top line items in the contested Republican primary race for the governor’s office.

With the primary election still four months away, four people have already officially filed for the Republican state primary for the governor’s seat, according to the Alaska Division of Elections — Mike Dunleavy of Wasilla, Gerald Heikes of Palmer, Merica Hlatcu of Anchorage and Michael Sheldon of Petersburg. Several more have filed paperwork with the Alaska Public Offices Commission but have not yet finished the Division of Elections’ registration process.

Scott Hawkins of Anchorage has filed his paperwork with the Alaska Public Offices Commission and is campaigning for governor but has not finalized paperwork with the Division of Elections yet. Another, Charlie Huggins of Wasilla, has filed a letter of intent to run for governor but has not completed a candidate registration form or registered with the Division of Elections. Rep. Mike Chenault (R-Nikiski) has been discussing running for governor as well and has raised more than $32,800 so far, but has not officially declared his candidacy for governor yet either.

However, at the Alaska Republican Party’s state convention in March, the state party identified Dunleavy, Hawkins and Chenault as the three candidates it supports on its ballot in October, said party chairman Tuckerman Babcock.

“We took that up at our state convention, and we didn’t want to pick a favorite at the convention, but we did want the delegates representing (regions) across the state to separate the wheat from the chaff,” he said. “…We recommended three candidates for governor. As far as the party is concerned, there are three legitimate candidates for governor — that’d be Hawkins, Chenault and Dunleavy.”

The ongoing issues of increased crime around the state and the political fallout from Gov. Bill Walker’s decision to halve the Permanent Fund Dividend amount in 2016 are high in the public’s minds for the Republican primary, Babcock said. But so is the issue of balancing the state budget without an income tax as well as the ongoing issues of economic development and oil and gas taxation, he said.

Those are all issues the three leading candidates have mentioned in speeches and interviews so far. Just after filing his letter of intent in September 2017, Chenault said in an interview that he was thinking to run because of overall frustration with the direction of the state under the Walker administration and an interest in reducing state spending.

Dunleavy, a vocal critic of Walker’s fiscal decisions in the Senate before he resigned his seat in January, supports distributing larger PFDs and cutting state spending without implementing a new income tax. In a Februrary interview, he said people had told him they were more upset about the dividend being politicized than about the actual dollar amount.

““It’s not an issue of people want more money — people never got upset at the size of the dividend, ever,” he said. “There’s no history of that. People got upset when politicians stuck their hands in it and the governor vetoed it … they’re willing to take a lower dividend as long as it has not been politicized. Right now they feel that it, the veto and then further actions by the Legislature, that whole process has been politicized.”

That’s something Hawkins identified as well. A newcomer to candidacy but not to politics — he helped run The Accountability Project, a political action committee — he said he agreed with Dunleavy that the PFD needed to be pegged to a formula rather than be politically set.

“We still have the flexibility to do that,” he said. “We can pay a significantly higher dividend than we’re paying right now and afford it. We can’t go all the way as high as some people want to go, but this $1,600 dividend that we’re seeing this session, we can even do a bit better than that. I think most Alaskans, if they see the dividend climbing up … and it’s pegged back to a formula, to the earnings, I think Alaskans for the most part would be happy with that and that would relieve the toxicity of that issue.”

Hawkins said he chose to run because of his concerns about the economic downturn, the state’s fiscal disorder and the ongoing crime problems statewide. The major place he differs from Dunleavy’s platform “is my fiscal plan works,” he said. He also criticized Dunleavy’s original support for Senate Bill 91, an omnibus crime reform bill passed in 2016 that has since lost much public support because it lowered penalties for low-level crimes.

“(SB 54) was a timid step in the right direction,” he said. “… What I would have taken out (of SB 91) was the elimination of meaningful penalties for many crimes, like property crimes and drug crimes.”

Dunleavy voted for the bill in its original passage in the Senate in April 2016 but voted against its final passage in May 2016. He said he chose not to support it in the end because of its sweeping nature and said he would address public safety holistically if elected.

Both Hawkins and Dunleavy said they supported continuing to reduce state spending and opposed Walker’s choice to expand the Medicaid program in 2015 against the Legislature’s will. All three candidates cited frustration with Walker’s administration as a major part of their decisions to run.

The gubernatorial candidates and three lieutenant gubernatorial candidates also supported by the Alaska Republican Party — Kevin Meyer of Anchorage, Edie Grunwald of Palmer and Lynn Gattis of Wasilla — are scheduled to attend a candidate forum at PRL Logistics near the Cannery Lodge in Kenai hosted by the Kenai Peninsula Republican Women of Alaska. The forum is scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday following a happy hour, said Elaina Spraker, the vice president of the Kenai Peninsula Republican Women group.

“It’s open to the public, but we’re definitely limited on seating — we can only get so many people in there,” she said. “I think this is the first time the Kenai Peninsula will get to see the people who are running.”

Tickets, which include admission and heavy appetizers, are available for $40 on the Kenai Peninsula Republican Women’s Facebook page.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at eearl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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