Juneau Republicans got their first look at their options for governor and lieutenant this year as the Juneau Republican Women hosted an hourlong lunchtime forum and dinner gathering on Friday.
“I don’t know if anybody’s noticed, but up here at the table for governor candidates, we’ve got three Mikes and a Scott,” said Scott Hawkins, an Anchorage businessman who is running for governor.
As the diners in the Prospector Lounge laughed, he was quick to add: “I think that’s going to go well for me.”
Each of the candidates at Friday’s events is vying for a chance to challenge incumbent independent Gov. Bill Walker (and possibly a Democratic candidate) in November’s general election.
To appear on the November ballot, each will need to win the August statewide Republican primary.
Much of the forum was devoted to the Republican candidates for governor: former state senator Mike Dunleavy, current state representative Mike Chenault, Michael Sheldon of Petersburg, and Hawkins.
The candidates for lieutenant governor included sitting Sen. Kevin Meyer, former Rep. Lynn Gattis, Edith Grunwald of Palmer, and Stephen Wright of Wasilla.
Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, is also running for lieutenant governor but did not attend the forum.
On his personal cellphone, he said that under his interpretation of state ethics rules, he didn’t feel he could attend because he traveled to Juneau on the travel stipend given to legislators.
“The way I read them, if you go to a meeting like that, you should pay your own way to Juneau,” he said.
The other sitting legislators who participated in the forum did not immediately respond to emails sent to their campaign accounts.
Master of ceremonies Murray Walsh said each candidate was given the topics a week in advance, allowing them to formulate their answers.
“Our objective here is to give you an idea of what these candidates are about. This is not some tricky debate thing. We are not commandos here,” he said.
Sixty-six people attended the forum, about double the figure that had been expected, organizers said, and several Republican legislators were in the audience alongside traditional Juneau party supporters.
“I feel like I’m on an Alaska Airlines flight,” Dunleavy said, drawing laughter as he pointed out the crowded room.
The candidates for lieutenant governor were asked their opinions about the state of Alaska’s Division of Elections. Under the state constitution, the lieutenant governor has supremacy over the state’s elections.
Gattis told attendees that she believes people have lost faith that their vote matters.
“We have got to change that (belief in) voter integrity around,” she said.
Grunwald, who had a lengthy career in the military, suggested that the division needs to have a better training plan and to practice it.
“It takes leadership up at the top,” she said.
Wright suggested that his familiarity with regulations in industry would help him with regulations in government.
Meyer said he believes current Division of Elections supervisor Josie Bahnke of Nome is a political appointee selected for her relationship with the lieutenant governor rather than any talent for the job.
He suggested he would reappoint Juneau’s Gail Fenumiai, whom Bahnke replaced.
Walsh proceeded to ask the gubernatorial candidates about federal actions in Alaska, about sexual misbehavior, and about their loyalty to the Alaska Republican Party.
Walsh acknowledged that’s not a subject Republicans talk about frequently, but he alluded to the fact that three Republicans in the Alaska House of Representatives have chosen to join a coalition majority.
“It’s time to, at least in this Republican’s opinion, impose a little discipline,” he said.
“Personally, I’m a very loyal Republican,” Hawkins said, and added that he’s “proud” of the Republican Party for withdrawing support from those three Republicans.
“It really upsets me when somebody turncoats from the Republican Party,” Sheldon said. “I think they should be ousted immediately.”
Dunleavy said he and the people in the room are Republicans because they believe in the party’s platform. Anyone who doesn’t believe in that platform but remains a Republican is simply using the label to further their own agenda.
Chenault offered a nuanced statement, reminding attendees that the governor swears an oath to the people of Alaska, not to a particular party. He continued by saying that he believes the Republican platform is the best one for the people of Alaska.
“I will not join a coalition that puts Democrats in power, and … my administration will be led by Republicans that share the same goals and ideals,” he said.
He also drew the biggest laugh of the afternoon when he promised the audience, “My transition team will not be led by Bruce Botelho.” Botelho, a former Juneau mayor, served as attorney general for governors Wally Hickel and Tony Knowles before serving as Walker’s transition director.
Friday’s events are the start of what promises to be a lengthy and competitive campaign for all involved. All candidates are planning extensive campaigns and efforts to spread their names and positions in the coming months.
The deadline for a candidate to register for the election is June 1, and there is still time for others to enter the race.
“As we move forward through this process, we’ll determine who is the better candidate, who can lead Alaska,” Chenault said.
• Contact reporter James Brooks at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 523-2258.