Republicans a no-show at first statewide candidate forum

The first statewide candidate forum of the year was last night. Three people running for lieutenant governor answered questions posed by KTVA reporter Rhonda McBride at the YWCA in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday night. Two Democrats — Alaska state Sen. Hollis French, Palmer math teacher Bob Williams, and independent Craig Fleener — fielded questions from McBride, a seasoned reporter, about education, tribal rights, federal regulations, natural resources, health and public safety, just to a name a few.

One of the two Democrats will be running with Byron Mallott in the general election. Fleener, who will skip the primary process, will be running with independent candidate Bill Walker.

The two Republican candidates, Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan and Alaska state Sen. Lesil McGuire didn’t show up for the forum. At the time the event was announced, Sullivan said that he had a personal engagement that evening. McGuire called in sick at the last minute. It was too bad. McGuire, who is a moderate Republican, shines no more brightly than when she’s speaking extemporaneously in front of a crowd.

French said that neither of the Republican showed because they wouldn’t be able to defend Gov. Sean Parnell’s record. Namely his decision not to accept federal money to expand Medicaid, which would insure up to 40,000 Alaskans on the federal dime. Then there was the issue about new regulations on Medicaid-funded abortions which made news earlier that day. The issue was only alluded to at the forum. Had McGuire showed, however, she would likely have been asked about it.

Throughout the night, Williams and French generally held the Democratic line. Fleener, a Gwich’in Athabascan from the Interior, and former Marine and currently a major in the Alaska Air National Guard, as well as the state’s former deputy commissioner of Fish and Game, displayed more of an independent streak. He’s more inclined to talk about giving parents more choice over education options, had stronger words for federal government encroachment, and mentioned, more than once, that as an independent, he’s “free from party and political corruption.”

When asked to give Gov. Sean Parnell a letter grade for the job he’s doing so far, French gave him a “D,” Fleener a “C-“ and Williams an “F.”

Williams, an up-and-comer to watch in the Democratic Party, called Parnell a “wimp,” which stands for “wildly inaccurate, misleading, and partisan.”

It doesn’t exactly work as an acrostic, but it was the line of the night, the delivery was spot on, and if nothing else, last night showed that Williams is a politician to watch.

Contact Amanda Coyne at amandamcoyne@yahoo.com

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