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Alaska's budget, states' rights and energy policy were three main topics of a question-and-answer session of the four Republican gubernatorial candidates at the start of this weekend's state Republican convention, held in Juneau for the first time in two decades.
Gov. Sean Parnell and challengers Ralph Samuels, Bill Walker and Gerald Heikes each had five minutes to pitch their platforms and background, and 60 seconds to answer submitted questions from delegates on health care reform, the Tea Party, the state capital budget, infrastructure, rural education and other topics.
The session was moderated by co-chair of the Capital City Republicans Ben Brown. It was, Brown said, the first time all four declared Republican candidates gathered to address an audience together.
Samuels, Walker and Heikes all said Alaska should have already filed a lawsuit against Congress' health care reform, putting Parnell on the defensive.
"It's an easy bumper sticker to say we should have sued already," Parnell said.
Parnell said he directed Alaska Attorney General Daniel Sullivan to file a lawsuit, and Sullivan asked him for time to "review it and do it right." Then Parnell said he called the AG of another state, who confirmed that state hadn't filed correctly, and he was amending the suit.
"I'm a guy who does my homework. That's what distinguishes me from the rest of these folks," Parnell said.
Parnell said he is "deeply concerned" by the size of the capital budget. He also said legislators are already lobbying him, anticipating cuts he said he will make once the budget gets to his desk.
"It's one of the times when the governor has said 'enough,' the governor means 'enough,' and we're going to work together to make it happen," he said.
Samuels put Parnell on the defensive in his comments on the budget. "The capital budget is not the problem," he said. "The operating budget of the state is the highest in state history. It went up by 10 percent this year."
Parnell responded that the agency operating budget he proposed had 2.2 percent growth, with formula funds for Medicaid and education taking up the other 8 percent. "I'm looking forward to working with you on the plan to reduce Medicaid and education spending this year, if that's what you want to do," he said.
All the candidates said they were for the All-Alaska gas pipeline. Heikes said his plan doesn't require a pipeline, but a cooperative building the infrastructure to refine fuel in Alaska.
"The heartbeat of the state is oil and gas ... We should have the cheapest energy in the nation in Alaska," Walker said. "We need to stop studying and start building the All-Alaska gasline."
Candidates also expressed solidarity with the Tea Party's expressed goals and frustration with government.
"In Alaska we have it worse than any other state as far as intrusion of the federal government into our daily lives," Samuels said, when asked about the Tea Party. "The government is us, and we're pushing back against ourselves ... So far, that's been a very good thing."
The convention also included forums for candidates for Lieutenant Governor and Congress. Links to Republican candidates' Web sites are available at http://www.alaskarepublicans.com/candidates.aspx.
Political parties in Alaska have state conventions every two years.
The Alaska Democratic Party's convention will be held May 23-25 in Sitka.