State-wide candidates try to connect with kids and seniors at forum

AARP Alaska, along with Anchorage middle schools, hosted both a gubernatorial and senatorial forum on Wednesday. About 100 people showed, most of whom were middle school students and the questions were written by them.  First up: The three candidates for governor—Democrat Byron Mallott, independent Bill Walker, and incumbent Republican Gov. Sean Parnell, who answered about 45 minutes worth of questions ranging from education, resource development, social security and healthcare. Many of the students were engaged, at least initially and were trying to understand. Others weren’t and couldn’t,

This was the second gubernatorial forum of the week. On Monday, the event was hosted by the Anchorage Chamber, and allowed for more back and forth, along with slight tension between Walker and Parnell, mostly over the natural gas pipeline. Walker doesn’t believe that the current plan in the works will get a gasline built. At the forum on Wednesday, Walker again lamented all the wasted years and hundreds of millions of dollars studying the gasline, and Parnell again said that the state is closer than ever.

But there was no heat in the exchanges. The candidates were limited to 60 second answers. Of all the candidates, the format suited Mallott the best, who has so far focused on generalities and platitudes and has shied far from specifics. About as specific as he got was when he said that his first act as governor would be to accept federal money to expand Medicaid, something that Parnell rejected. Walker said he would also expand the program, as long as he was assured that the feds would pick up 100 percent of the tab.

Parnell told the crowd, that those who would qualify for Medicaid already get access to primary care and emergency rooms “free of charge.”

If they hadn’t before, this is probably where they lost the children.

The group of 10 or so that I talked to after said that they didn’t understand a lot. One of them said they liked that Mallott talked more than the others about education. A few of them said that Walker seemed confident. Most of them said that they liked Parnell and felt more comfortable with him than with the others.

Up next was the GOP Senate forum, featuring Joe Miller, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, and Dan Sullivan. This, too, was this group’s second time meeting. The last, moderated by KTUU Channel 2’s Steve MacDonald, wasn’t live, and lacked energy, at least the kind of energy that Sullivan appears to feed on. This one also contained few fireworks. The candidates spoke about federal government overreach, about honoring our vets, and about social security.

Miller said that he would work to privatize the program for those under 50 years old, which likely didn’t go well with the seniors in the group. The two others talked around the issue, but didn’t, like Miller, address it head on. Treadwell said that we’ve got to be “flexible,” when thinking about how to save social security. Sullivan said that when the country elects “serious leaders” there’s an “opportunity for serious reform.” He didn’t elaborate.

All three candidates oppose federal government overreach. All said they would focus on the youth. And all agreed that the minimum wage hike that’s being debated in Congress should be left up to individual states.

After it was over, the kids didn’t remember much of what they said, and were mostly stymied when I asked which one they thought did the best job. One said that they thought Treadwell’s experience was important. A few of the more outspoken ones said that Sullivan connected most with the audience. All of them remembered when Sullivan asked for a show of hands of all those who had done their homework the night before.

After about half the room raised them, he said that the passing of ObamaCare was a great example of legislators not doing their homework. “It was legislative malpractice,” he said. “Not healthcare form.”

One of the students after said she was surprised how few of her peers didn’t do their homework. She also said that she had wished social issues, like gay marriage, had been discussed.

Another said that he had heard a lot about ObamaCare. Then again, he was U.S. Rep. Don Young’s grandchild. His grandfather comes over for dinner a lot, he said, and talks a lot.

“About politics?” I asked.

Yes, the boy said. A lot about ObamaCare.

Contact Amanda Coyne at


7 thoughts on “State-wide candidates try to connect with kids and seniors at forum

  1. Brad

    Treadwell is the worst candidate in Alaska’s history. Only dan is worth our time. Kids knew it too, and while they can’t vote, as a Sullivan supporter, I base a lot of what I say on diatribes simple enough for children to understand. Treadwell should drop out of the race. Dan has an Alaskan native wife, that’s proof enough for me. I don’t know why it isn’t for all of you too.

  2. Lynn Willis

    Glad to see the Governor debating instead of his usual rope-a-dope. I credit Bill Walker for drawing him out to face issues and explain himself.
    Bill Walker is willing to pusue a solution for the medicade costs to the state. and nation. Medicade is not “free of charge”; somebody pays for it. . I understand you can hardly find more expensive health care than at an emergency room. Aren’t our state leaders warning us that Medicade, education, and pension plans will soon consume most state revenue? So how can Medicade be “free of charge”? The Governor has government provided health insurance for him and his family If medicade provides adequate care then why doesn’t the Governor give up his health care plan and go on Medicade sincei t is “free of charge” ?

  3. Dexter

    Can someone explain to me why Mallott is running for governor? He seems slightly confused or disinterested. He fails to make compelling arguments in support of his candidacy. With the exception of his position on Mediciad expansion, he hjas done a very poor job of showing the differences between the Governor and himself. Right now, the governor’s race is on track to be one of the most boring campaigns in America. At the Chamber luncheon, he gave his biographical introduction talking about “not getting enough sleep” and second guessing himself throughout his career. Seems like an odd approach to selling yourself. Sounds like the kids even him at the bottom.

  4. Blueliner

    It appears from this article that the kids mostly like Governor Parnell for governor and Dan Sullivan for the senate. Both are also the Republican party’s presumed nominees. There have been many studies and straw polls showing that kids’ votes emmulate their parents. Just thouught that this was an interesting parallel.

  5. The Good Dad

    I like to think of myself as being a good and involed parent. Unfortunately, sometimes my objectives fall short of my goals. I just read this column and mentioned to my dauughter that its too bad her school doesn’t do field trips like this one. She immediately corrected me and said that her class was there. That probably would have been a poor exchange for me in a custody battle. Lucky for me that both my wife and daughter are forgiving sould and over look my faults and mistakes. I was pleased to learn how interested she was in some of the topics and the questions she was asking just a few minutes ago on her way to bed. The schools should do more of this as I suspect iit instills more interest in government and helps to make better citizens. My daughter was most impressed with Governor Parnell and Dan Sullivan. She told me that she got on the internet and learned that both of them had daughters. If these two are good enough for my daughter, they’re good enough for me. After all, its her future I care most about.

  6. Dell

    I believe your implication of saying the short forum suited Mallott well was a diplomatic way of saying that he doesn’t have much to say. I wasn’t at the forum today; however, I diid attend the Anchorage Chamber meeting earlier this week. I can’t tell you how disappointed I was with Mr. Mallott’s performance. The myth around this guy is greater than the reality. You are correct when you say he talks in platitudes. A better description would be in “meaningless platitudes”.

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