Alaska Republican candidates make questionable remarks related to race

Republican candidates have made questionable remarks related to race at two different candidate forums in the last few days, including comparing union membership to slavery.

The first one was after a GOP Senate forum on Saturday, when candidate Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell used the widely disavowed Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy as a symbol for government overreach. He told Anchorage Daily News reporter Nat Hertz that although Bundy was problematic, he was “like Joe the Plumber.”

For a short time, Bundy was a hero among those who have fought against such overreach. When the federal government tried to make him pay for the 20 years that his cattle had been grazing on federal land, his supporters rode in on horses and brought guns. Fox News loved him. Right wing radio sang his praises. Then he began talking about his world view, including of race, and people didn’t love him much anymore. This is where he got “problematic.”

This is a truncated version of what he told a New York Times reporter about “the Negro:”

And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do? They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.

Hertz asked Treadwell about Bundy because of an allusion that Treadwell made about him in a speech at the forum. The racist comments got bigger headlines than Bundy’s original war against the feds. However, Treadwell, who had been following the story, told the ADN reporter that he wasn’t aware of the racist comments. “I don’t know what he said about race issues, and I don’t support that,” he told Hertz.

In a follow-up interview, Treadwell again said that he didn’t know about Bundy’s comments about race before referring to him, and that he didn’t support the rancher, but that he was nonetheless a symbol of a “sage brush rebellion” that’s brewing in the country over federal control of lands. If he were elected to the Senate, Treadwell said, wresting that control from the feds and putting it back into the hands of the state would be one of his top priorities.

Then, on Monday at a lieutenant governor’s forum, Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan compared being in a union to slavery.

In response to an audience question about right-to-work legislation, Sullivan said that he adamantly supported it. “We ended slavery a long time ago,” he said.

In an interview after the debate, Sullivan clarified his remarks. He said that when someone has to pay to get a job, referring to union dues, it’s “economic slavery.”

Right-to-work laws vary in the 24 states that have such laws, but they generally mean that employees can’t be required to join a labor union and pay dues to get a job that has been negotiated through labor agreements.

None of the three other candidates in the forum—Republican state Sen. Lesil McGuire, Democratic state Sen. Hollis French, and Wasilla teacher Bob Williams—support the legislation.

In the past few years, conservatives have likened slavery from everything to affirmative action, to abortion to social security. And they often get reminded that it’s an offensive comparison. Most recently Sarah Palin made headlines for comparing the national debt to slavery.

In any case, the comment indicates that Sullivan plans to take his battle with the unions with him on his statewide campaign. Anchorage-based Republican consultant Marc Hellenthal said that it’s a battle that will likely help him in the Republican primary, but could hurt him and Gov. Sean Parnell in the general.

As the Alaska Democratic Party pointed out in a press release, Alaska has the second-highest rate of union participation in the country.

Contact Amanda Coyne at


15 thoughts on “Alaska Republican candidates make questionable remarks related to race

  1. President CLC

    No intimidation here. Just the facts. You’re free to apply your conclusions about my prior statement as you see fit but that’s not what it says. You can apply for 100% of the jobs you are qualified to work at. In 25% of them you’ll be paying dues. Just pointing out that 1 in 4 jobs are represented while 3 in 4 are not. Thus, your bellyaching about discrimination is simply that.

  2. Mae

    My guess is most of these politicians have no clue what slavery is. But hey, it is trendy for them to use the word. Gets them more people to chat with around the beer keg. Gets them more looks, stares and attention if they use the word “slavery”. Please on to the next republican buzz word of choice.

    And for Treadwell, since when is paying your taxes, federal overreach?
    Think about it. If I don’t pay my taxes, then there’s no federal overreach?

    I’ve a neibor that moans and complains about his taxes. He just rants and raves about it, as he hops on his motorcycle to take a spin on a federally funded highway. Would he been able to afford that cycle if he had a non union job? I know for a fact he wouldn’t of. Basically the guy is a moaner and bitcher. And Treadwell, along with Bartender Dan wants his vote.
    I love watching this circus.

  3. Milton Friedman

    No snappy comeback Vinny? Take your bullying someplace else. I think Alaska has figured out that your just a blowhard bully with a loud mouth and aren’t intimidated by you anymore. I know I’m not.

  4. Milton Friedman

    So non union members are only able to apply for employment within 75% of the entire job market. So non union members do not have a right to the entire pool of opportunity where a union member does. Thank you for proving the point. A potential employee can have all the talent, experience and credentials in the world, but if they do not want their treasure to be given over to the union bosses, they are discriminated against 1/4 of the time. Thank you for clarifying.

  5. President CLC

    Let me get this straight. You want the value of a good union job but don’t want to support the efforts of the union to maintain it? Rather than appreciate the sacrifice and effort that so many have made to build a labor movement and support it, you’d rather take a union job and withhold payment of union dues, thereby weakening the union, and bringing standards of living down to the basest level because you believe you have no choice? Only 25% of the work opportunity available in Alaska is Union. That means that the other 75% of the jobs are available for your choice. The choice is a good union job where you pay a small percentage in dues, or a nonunion job where you earn less. That’s the nonunion dues you pay by earning as much as 30% less than a union represented worker in the same job. Think about it.

  6. President CLC

    Many in this state have no choice? Really? All job opportunities come with requirements which are known BEFORE the applicant takes the job. Unions in Alaska cover about 25% of all workers (and their jobs) leaving the other 75% of available jobs available to those who don’t want to pay dues. There are three times more nonunion jobs than there are union. Go find one.

  7. John Smith

    I do have a question. The title of the article is “Alaska Republican candidates make questionable remarks related to race”. I do not see any reference to a specific race in any of the quotes in the article. What specific race that was a victim of slavery are you referring to when you state they made “remarks related to race”? Slavery was wrong regardless of race. The assumption that the word “slavery” is tied to one and only one particular race is very curious considering race was never the issue in any of the quotes.

  8. Lynn Willis

    How stupid and irrelevant to compare slavery to mandatory union membership. When could a slave refuse to pay dues and therefore no longer be a slave?
    Hyperbole is the now hallmark of politicians. While this tactic may encourage their base this illogical extremism drives away the voters who will decide their fate. “Stupid is as stupid does”.

  9. tommy g.

    The point of this article is the insensitivity and characterization of two elected officials, both of whom, are seeking higher office. They both, to me, appearr to be highly insensitive or plain ignorant. Maybe both. At a minimum, it shows that they have limited verbal capacity to express themselves intelligently. Treadwell’s history is that he speaks out of bith sides of his mouth given his audience as is the case here. Mayor Sullivan makes his case with a poor choice of words.

  10. Mark

    Forcing someone to belong to an organization they don’t want to simply to have a job may not be slaverly, but it is extortion which is close enough for the comparison.

  11. Claire

    You have to pay to be “IN” the union and in some cases you can choose to pay a little less to not be “OF” the union. No option to JUST BE an employee? Sounds like serfdom, to me.
    If you’re not “OF” the union, you can’t apply to work or propose to work on MOST non-residential buildings in the state. That my friends, is an attack on the middle class.

    Interesting random bullying article of those who have the option to opt out:

  12. Milton Friedman

    I agree with the comparison. Forced payment of fees in order to work in a trade, flies in the face of economic liberty. There should be individual economic choice available. Right now, many in this state have no choice.

Comments are closed.