Governor's race heats up as the primary election looms
It’s just over a month to the Aug. 21 primary election, and the governor’s race is heating up. Signs are popping up around town, and one of the candidates, Democrat Mark Begich, officially opened his campaign headquarters on Tuesday.
The main race, though, is in the Republican primary. The two leading contenders, former Wasilla state Sen. Michael Dunleavy and businessman and former lieutenant governor Mead Treadwell, are looking for the chance to face Begich and incumbent Bill Walker, an independent.
Five other candidates are on the Republican ballot, according to the Alaska Division of Elections: Merica Hlatcu and Darin Colbry of Anchorage, Gerald Heikes of Palmer, Thomas Gordon of Wasilla and Michael Sheldon of Petersburg. Anchorage businessman Scott Hawkins, an early contender, dropped out earlier this month, citing Treadwell’s entry into the race.
With the primary likely attracting the conservative Republican base, Treadwell is burnishing his record.
“I’m a conservative who’s pro-life, I’m a conservative who worked for Donald Trump and has worked very closely with people in his White House on land rights for Alaskans, on trying to balance the federal budget as well as the state budget,” Treadwell said. “I am somebody who ran the environmental agency in our state, so if you consider cleaning up the environment something to the left, I’d say you’re wrong. I think that’s an Alaskan thing — we all love the environment.”
Dunleavy was elected to the the Senate from a conservative Wasilla area district, but in an interview he said voters are not all that interested in political labels.
“They don’t really care where one is from, and they don’t really care the party, to be honest with you — it’s the issues: Permanent Fund, crime, public safety, education, the ability to get this budget under control — those are the things that are impacting folks the most. I never hear folks talk about, you’re from the Valley, you’re not from Anchorage — I don’t get that. What I get is, where are you on the issues.”
One of the strongest opponents to either Dunleavy or Treadwell will likely be the state office of the AFL-CIO, the umbrella labor organization.
Vince Beltrami, the president of the labor group, has supported both Walker and Begich before, but he said in a statement to reporters Monday that a poll commissioned by the labor organization shows Dunleavy could beat both in a three-way race. The poll showed that either Begich or Walker could beat Dunleavy in a two-way race, the AFL-CIO said.
Beltrami has said that he may ask one to step aside to assure a victory to the other, but that could depend on the Republican primary outcome.
Meanwhile, Dunleavy and Treadwell are heating up their campaigns.
“I think we’re on the right side of the issues,” Dunleavy said. “Wherever we go around the state of Alaska, we got lots of folks that are volunteering, we got folks on board doing a whole bunch of different things.”
“I think that people believe that we need to have somebody who can help Alaska compete in world markets,” Treadwell said. “I was an assistant to (former Gov.) Wally Hickel, I was deputy commissioner of environment, so I worked all the environmental issues in the state, including permitting mines. I was a business leader and I helped start companies here, companies that went to global markets.”
After Walker said earlier this month that the federal permitting process for the Pebble Mine should stop and work on an environmental impact statement halted, it made Pebble and issue in the campaign. Begich has been against the project, calling it the wrong mine in the wrong place, a reference to the big Bristol Bay salmon fishery downstream from the mine site.
But Dunleavy and Treadwell said the permitting process should continue.
“People ask about the pebble mine, and my position has always been, I think we need to adhere to a process,” Dunleavy said. “I can’t answer whether I’m for the Pebble mine or against the Pebble mine. I have no idea, because I don’t know what the process, the studies, are going to tell us.”
Treadwell said that environmental regulations protecting streams should determine the mine’s fate.
“I’ll tell you this: you have both Mark Begich and now Bill Walker saying they want to cut the hearings, they want to cut the EIS process,” Treadwell said. “Here’s my warning to Alaskans: any governor who will take away due process for a mine could take away your due process on guns, your due process and your rights as a parent, your due process on individual rights. We’ve got to stand up for due process, whether you love Pebble or hate Pebble.”