For an hour Monday, the three candidates for governor of Alaska fielded questions relating to the aviation community in Alaska.
At the end of the debate, Gov. Bill Walker and Mark Begich headed for the exits, while Mike Dunleavy stayed for another hour and spoke to the crowd who had gathered around him.
It was a spirited debate for Walker, Begich, and Dunleavy, but it was especially crucial for third-place Walker, who is facing stiff headwinds with voters, and who has an ever-shortened runway approaching the Nov. 6 election. The polls have been unkind to Walker’s prospects of re-election.
Because many of the debate questions were specific to aviators, the answers candidates might give could lead to a major shift in spending and priorities for state government.
Is it the State of Alaska’s role to grow more pilots to address the pilot shortage, the moderator asked? The big-government answer is “Yes, more programs, please,” while the private sector answer is: “This is a job for the private sector to address.” One answer might satisfy a specific group of interests, but there are hundreds of special interest groups with similar needs.
Aside from the aviation focus, candidates had a chance to address each other’s responsibility for the ills of the state.
There was forced hooping and hollering when Walker took a particularly mean-spirited jab at Dunleavy; Walker had brought an entourage with him for support.
Walker said he felt like he was “cleaning up a frat house after a party that I hadn’t been invited to,” and said that Dunleavy was responsible for the mess he took over as governor four years ago because Dunleavy had voted for large budgets year after year.
The governor was blaming someone who was sworn in as a senator in 2013, had served through two sessions, and as one of 20 senators, someone who had never held the veto pen.
The biggest budget in history was before Dunleavy came into office and he ran for Senate on lowering the budget. Every year in office he has advocated for budget cuts to the point where he left the majority caucus in 2017 over what he felt was too large a spend.
Here’s Dunleavy in 2015, arguing with Walker’s Office of Management and Budget Director Pat Pitney, as she tries to say that no more cuts can be made: