The Nome Nugget

Democratic gubernator­ial candidate Les Gara visits Nome

- By Megan Gannon

Les Gara, the Democratic candidate who hopes to unseat Alaska’s Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy, made a campaign stop in Nome on Tuesday, Sept. 26.

With the November general election just six weeks away, about a dozen people showed up for Gara’s casual meet-and-greet at Nome’s XYZ Center to ask questions.

Much of the conversati­on centered around Gara’s vision for increasing funding to state programs, such as public education, mental health care, children’s services, substance abuse treatment and a pension system. He argued that a lack of investment in these programs has led to problems like high rates of domestic violence, suicide and alcoholism, as well as a lack of retention in critical jobs.

“When we took away pensions from teachers and police, they started leaving, because they can come here, they can fish for a couple years, and then they go to another state where they can get a pension and raise their kids,” Gara said. “So, we pay to train them. We’re like a training ground. We’re the suckers in the deal. They have a couple of years of fun here and they go somewhere else. That’s just not the way to build a state.”

His idea to pay for budget increases is eliminatin­g oil company tax subsidies.

“Where’s the money going to come in for these things?” Gara said. “Well, this state right now gives away $1.2 billion of our oil money in subsidies to the largest, wealthiest corporatio­ns in the world. They’re called tax credits.”

He explained that he did not think other avenues for increasing revenue in the state were feasible, such as establishi­ng an income tax or slashing the Permanent Fund Dividend.

In the audience, Sue Steinacher

raised her concern that the governor doesn’t get to miraculous­ly push through such a big change—it must go through the legislatur­e as well. “I would like to know what, beyond getting these tax subsidies removed, you might propose as ways to afford the things that we so desperatel­y need,” Steinacher asked.

Gara, a former member of the Alaska House of Representa­tives, answered that any proposal to increase revenue would require 21 votes in the House and 11 votes in the Senate. “I think the most likely one is ending oil company tax credits, because it is the most fair,” Gara said. “If you’re looking for substantia­l revenue for the state to solve these big problems, it’s got to be one of those larger taxes unless you’re going to do like 12 taxes, in which case the public will just revolt.”

Margaret Thomas asked how Gara, other than being pro-choice, would distinguis­h himself from the other progressiv­e candidate in the race, independen­t former Gov. Bill Walker. In the primary, Gara finished with 23 percent of the vote and Walker with 22.8 percent. Walker will also be on the November ballot thanks to Alaska’s new ranked choice voting system.

Gara brought up Walker’s track record as governor which included a cut to education, but still said: “I’m voting for myself first and I’m voting for Bill second. Even on these issues that I disagree with him on, Mike Dunleavy is just far more extreme. Bill Walker cut $32 million of education funding his first year, Gov. Dunleavy tried cutting a quarter billion dollars from education funding his first year. It’s a big difference.”

 ?? Photo by Megan Gannon ?? LES GARA — Sue Steinacher grills gubernator­ial candidate Les Gara during his campaign stop in Nome.
Photo by Megan Gannon LES GARA — Sue Steinacher grills gubernator­ial candidate Les Gara during his campaign stop in Nome.

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