JUNEAU — The two more conservative Republicans running for U.S. Senate in Alaska sought to distinguish themselves Wednesday evening in a rare head-to-head debate less than a week before the primary.
Joe Miller and Mead Treadwell agreed on several issues, including that people are entitled to the Social Security benefits for which they made payments. They spoke of possible revisions to the system, including allowing people to take their Social Security benefits at a later age.
Miller and Treadwell agreed that the science on climate change is inconclusive. They warned of policies that they said would economically hurt the middle class or dictate what kind of car one could drive. Treadwell, though, said concerns like ocean acidification cannot be ignored.
The third major candidate in the race, presumptive front-runner Dan Sullivan, did not participate in the debate. He was represented in the Anchorage studio of the Alaska public media debate, which was broadcast on TV and radio statewide, by an empty chair.
Sullivan’s spokesman, Mike Anderson, said earlier in the day that the candidate planned to spend the evening knocking on doors in the Anchorage and Eagle River areas. Anderson said Sullivan has participated in a dozen debates and forums, the most recent of which was on Monday, and that he recognizes the importance of reaching out to Alaskans in person.
Sullivan’s campaign manager Ben Sparks said last week that voter enthusiasm wins races, and having Sullivan out meeting with voters helps drive that enthusiasm.
The candidates are vying for their party’s nomination in Tuesday’s primary for the seat held by Democrat Mark Begich, who is seeking re-election. Begich does not face a real challenge in his own primary.
The debate provided one of the last chances for the candidates to be seen and heard on a large stage.
Other than a few passing references to Sullivan’s absence made by Treadwell, the debate was a largely friendly back-and-forth on issues including the Arctic, gun rights and whether tribal police should be allowed to arrest someone who is not a member to protect a victim.
Treadwell, who is Alaska’s lieutenant governor, said that while he’s “very much against violence,” the question of tribal law applying to a nontribal member is thorny. He said he would encourage cross-swearing of law enforcement officers with the state, so if there’s a need to arrest a non-tribal member, that could happen. Miller, a tea party favorite, said he supports local control as much as possible, so long as it is in line with the state and U.S. constitutions.
The only real dustup between the two came on the issue of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s role in Alaska. Treadwell noted that Miller said at a recent debate the DEA had no place in Alaska, a position Miller defended by noting that drug enforcement is not an enumerated power of the federal government under the U.S. constitution. Miller said the agency has a role at the borders, but within a state, enforcement should be a state issue.
Treadwell said the agency can play a role because drugs often come into Alaska from outside the state, even through the mail. He said he’s all for bringing decision-making home but said he thinks Miller is misguided in his position.