Dan Fagan and I moderated a gubernatorial forum sponsored by the Mat-Su Business Alliance on Friday at Evangelo’s in Wasilla. Before a crowd of about 250, Gov. Sean Parnell and his running mate Mayor Dan Sullivan, along with their opponents Bill Walker and Byron Mallott, fielded questions, mostly from the audience, for 90 minutes. It was a very engaged crowd and it was anything but boring. Because I was participating in the forum, I couldn’t take notes. However, here’s what I saw and the highlights as I remember them and taken from a recording I made:
- Bill Walker made it clear that if elected, DNR Commissioner Joe Balash would no longer be working as commissioner. It’s too bad. Balash has been a diligent public servant with a trove of knowledge about oil and gas issues. Over the years, he’s been sympathetic to Walker’s pipeline plans, particularly when he worked with Sarah Palin’s administration on AGIA. However, he recently wrote a scathing column about Walker and the Port Authority. Walker’s people fired back, and so it goes.
- Todd Palin sat at the Walker family/staff table. There were lots of Palinistas in the crowd.
- Gov. Parnell admitted that his appointment of the Californian to the State Assessment Review Board was a mistake.
- Walker said that all appointees on state boards and commissions would be state residents in his administration. (Doesn’t the state Aerospace Board have a seat specified for an astronaut?)
- Parnell, Sullivan and Walker are pro-life. Mallott is pro-choice.
- One of the major disagreements between the two came over the gas pipeline. Parnell and Walker sharply disagreed on approaches. Walker stuck to his guns about the state owning 51 percent of the line. As conceived now, the state will be partners with trans-Canada to own 25 percent interest in the project, with an option to take a 40 percent interest down the road. It was a more affordable, less risky and politically palatable deal that taking more interest in the line now, particularly given the ever-changing gas market. All told, the project is expected to cost $60 billion or more. Lawmakers passed legislation to allow the state to proceed with the contract. It passed the Senate 16-4 and the House 36-4. It was an arduous effort to get it passed. Walker continued to say that renegotiating the amount that Alaska owned did not constitute scrapping the whole contract and starting over, which raised more than a few eyebrows in the room.
- Parnell wouldn’t commit to having a more bi-partisan administration, as Walker has committed to.
- Walker said that he would probably forward Parnell’s proposed budget to the legislature on Dec. 15 if elected. If he wins, he’ll be sworn in on Dec. 1, and he said that he wouldn’t have time to submit hi own budget.
- Crystal Nygard, executive director of the Mat-Su Business Alliance wore a hard hat, fluorescent orange safety vest and red industrial coveralls. It took me a moment to realize that she was dressed for Halloween. Two women dressed as witches. At least one person wore a “Captain Zero” T-shirt.
- Bill Walker is in litigation of the constitutionality of the way Point Thomson was settled. If he wins, he said he would drop the suit against the state.
- Although both candidates vowed to cut state spending, neither was specific about what it would be that they would cut.
- Parnell and Sullivan were far more committal on the Knik Bridge project than Walker and Mallott. Walker said that he thought the project was important, but would have to compare it to other projects around the state and prioritize. He did however say that he would not have vetoed the $55 million in last year’s budget for the project.
- Walker was bullish on finishing the spur line that would link Port MacKenzie with the AK Railroad main line near Houston. All told, the project is expected to cost $300 million. The Mat-Su Borough still needs $120 million to finish the project. It’s asking the Legislature for $116 million appropriation next session.
- Mallott, who sounded especially strong and confident in his beliefs and positions–particularly when it comes to caring for the least of us–admitted that he smokes an occasional expensive cigar, which got him some applause.
- There were five former Valdez mayors in the room: Bill Walker, John Harris, Bert Cottel, Stephen McAlpine, and Lynn Chrystal. None of them live in Valdez anymore.
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