Gara and Walker face off in the forum

KENAI – Gubernatorial candidates Les Gara and Bill Walker presented their respective campaigns in Kenai on Wednesday, where they took part in a candidates’ forum hosted by the Kenai and Soldotna Chambers of Commerce. Wednesday’s forum, held at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center, was moderated by Merrill Sikorski, who posed questions submitted by chamber members.

Walker is the only nonpartisan gubernatorial candidate to appear on the Alaskans’ November ballot. He is a former governor of Alaska and also served as mayor and city attorney for Valdez. Walker runs with Heidi Drygas, who is running for lieutenant governor.

Gara is the only Democratic candidate for governor who will appear on the ballot. He is a former state legislator and is running alongside Lt. Governor candidate Jessica Cook, who recently taught in the Anchorage School District.

Both Gara and Walker are running against incumbent Governor Mike Dunleavy and Charlie Pierce, who came in first and fourth respectively in Alaska’s Aug. 16 primary election. Kenai Chamber Executive Director Brett Perry told attendees Wednesday that Dunleavy and Pierce were unable to attend the forum due to scheduling conflicts.

For about an hour, Walker and Gara took turns answering questions that touched on everything from the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend to worker shortages to preferential-choice voting. Both expressed concern over emigration from Alaska, particularly with regard to young people, but stood out on other issues.

Both candidates appeared ambivalent about preferential-choice voting and said they opposed holding a state constitutional convention.

“I think it’s very, very good,” Walker said of the Alaska Constitution. “I think the last thing we need to do right now is add more uncertainty to our lives as Alaskans, and that would absolutely add uncertainty.”

The two also said they would take a different approach to governor vetoes: Walker accused Dunleavy of using vetoes as political leverage and Gara said he would be reluctant to veto any legislation unless it threatens someone’s rights.

When asked how they would find consensus on issues amid political polarization, Walker said it was important for people to talk to each other rather than each other. Gara has criticized Dunleavy for policies that he says pit Alaskans against each other.

“You have to fight between a permanent fund dividend or schools, or a university, or job training, or renewable energy projects, or community projects that put people to work or construction projects that give people first,” Gara said. “It’s all ‘or’s right now and so each of these groups are fighting against each other. This is not the way to run the government.

Walker and Gara took swipes at Dunleavy’s absence near the end of Wednesday’s forum, saying they are the only candidates who regularly attend gubernatorial debates.

“Bill and I have been in six debates together so far and that’s one of the reasons I’m ranking Bill second in choice voting,” Gara said. “He introduces himself and he shares his ideas. I’m sorry, but Governor Dunleavy didn’t.

“To be governor, you have to run,” Walker said. “You have to show up even if you don’t want to show up.”

Gara and Walker, along with Dunleavy and Pierce, will appear on the ranked choice ballot for the Nov. 8 general election in Alaska.

The ranked ballot displays a grid of bubbles, with a row for each candidate and a column for the order of preference. The voter fills in the bubble in the “1st choice” column that corresponds to their first choice candidate. The voter then moves to the second column and fills in the bubble that corresponds to their second-choice candidate, and so on. Voters can rank up to four candidates, or simply rank one, two or three candidates.

If a candidate receives more than 50% of the first choice votes, that candidate will be declared the winner of the election.

If no candidate receives more than 50% of the first-choice votes, the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated. Then, voters who ranked the eliminated candidate as their first choice would have their second-choice candidate votes divided among the remaining candidates. The process will continue until a candidate emerges with more than 50% of the votes.

The Alaska gubernatorial election will take place on November 8. More information about the 2022 general election in Alaska is available on the Alaska Division of Elections website at elections.alaska.gov.

• Contact journalist Ashlyn O’Hara at [email protected]

Alaska gubernatorial candidates Bill Walker, left, and Les Gara participate in a candidates forum hosted by the Kenai and Soldotna Chambers of Commerce at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center on Wednesday, September 7, 2022 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Clarion Peninsula)


Melvin B. Baillie