FAIRBANKS — After months of mostly amiable candidate forums and campaigning, candidates in the Interior’s five contested House races took off the gloves for the last forum before the Nov. 6 election.
Candidates navigated through a slew of rhetoric, attacks on policy and personal jabs during the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce candidate forum on Tuesday at the Carlson Center.
With a week before voters head to the polls, the strain and stress of campaigning showed and the typical polite exchange turned heated, especially during candidate-to-candidate questions.
Doug Isaacson, the Republican candidate for the North Pole House seat, asked his Democratic opponent, Janice Golub, what exactly she’s done to solve the problems she’s identified in campaign materials, pointing out that she’s never served in elected office.
“Please describe all the actions you have taken to date to find solutions for all of these serious issues,” he said.
She was candid about it being her first time running for public office, saying she has plenty of experience in public service through her time in the military. She proceeded to point out the black marks on Isaacson’s record.
“Some of your experience might be superior, but in other ways it’s not been so good. You’ve had bankruptcies, you’ve had a recall election (unsuccessful) and you’ve had ethics complaints; that’s not somewhere I’d want to go.”
The sparring also continued in questions traded between Reps. Alan Dick, R-Nenana, and David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks, who were drawn into the same large district by the state’s reapportionment board.
Guttenberg questioned Dick on his recent moves, hinting he might not be eligible or well-suited to represent the district. He noted that Dick’s home, campaign headquarters and plane registration are all across the state.
“Could you please explain that?” he asked.
Dick explained the moves as a matter of serving his district better and said it’s so large he travels often.
“In order to well serve my district, I moved to Nenana,” he said. “The fact is this district is so huge, so I’m not there as much as I’d like to be, but I moved there to represent my district.”
He questioned why Guttenberg thought he’d be the most effective representative if he isn’t in the majority, noting majority members have access to better resources. Guttenberg said it wasn’t that simple.
“I’ve spent most of my time in the Legislature in a leadership role, where we do the negotiating between the majority and the minority,” he said, turning the question to hint at Dick’s vote for reduced oil taxes. “It doesn’t really matter if you don’t do the things that best represent your district, if you don’t understand a $2 billion per year giveaway. If you don’t vote with your district there’s no reason being there.”
The issue of party affiliation has touched a number of races. Republican candidates have argued that they would make better representatives because they “have a seat at the table” when it comes to getting legislation through the House. It was an issue that came up during questions from the audience, which also had no problem asking barbed questions that were primarily directed at Democrats.
Rep. Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks, has borne that criticism from his opponent, Republican challenger David Pruhs.
“I knew this question was going to come up,” Kawasaki said. “I’ll just have to say that being a member of a minority is tough. I don’t get to author a bill with my own name on it first. That’s just how it works. ... I worked together with other people to get those bills passed.”
Kawasaki followed up on the issue with Pruhs, saying the House majority has passed legislation bad for Fairbanks.
“I’ve always been a Fairbanksan and will always stand up to my caucus and put Fairbanks first,” Pruhs said. “Anybody who knows my integrity would never dispute that, would never question that.”
Pruhs said his father “was a Democratic Party chairman and trained me to work across party lines.”
When asked if the candidates would work together once they get to Juneau, Senate candidates answered with a resounding “yes.” House candidates gave more nuance answers.
Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, used the question to point out the differences between her and her opponent.
“Well, my opponent voted against HB 1, so it shows that he voted for Obamacare. He voted against HB 9, so he voted against the gas line. He doesn’t think we need any tax changes,” she said. “Yes, we need to get along, but we also need to make sure that we need to bring Fairbanks ahead.”
Wilson’s opponent, fellow incumbent Rep. Bob Miller, D-Fairbanks, said he seeks agreement on good policies.
“I look for common ground,” he said. “I studied philosophy in college, which is only about one thing, ideas. I try to harvest all the good ideas, all the bad ideas, all the mediocre ideas.”
The Democratic candidate for House District 5, Dave Watts, offered his take on the issue of partisanship in Juneau.
“You are electing very disparate personalities from very different backgrounds; they are never going to agree 100 percent,” he said. “But, if they have the interests of the Interior in common, we can work together for positive accomplishments. I can play nice, if I have to.”
Watts and his Republican opponent, Pete Higgins, had spent most of the forum sparring about oil tax reform and the accuracy of the facts used in the arguments about it. They largely agreed on the issue of working together to achieve goals for the Interior.
“Ditto,” Higgins said. “I didn’t get this way because it’s my way or the highway. ... I believe everybody here believes that Alaskans come first. We want what’s the best for us, so I think we’ll all work pretty nice.”
Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544 or follow him on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.