Energy the focus at governor forum

Posted: Thursday, July 08, 2010

FAIRBANKS - This was a debate for the Twitter generation.

In a forum sponsored by the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce, Alaska's candidates for governor were required to answer questions in 60 seconds or less. Tuesday's event - held seven weeks before the Aug. 24 primary - attracted Republicans Gerald Heikes, Merica Hlatcu, Sam Little, Gov. Sean Parnell, Ralph Samuels and Bill Walker, along with Democratic state Sen. Hollis French.

Democrat Ethan Berkowitz and Republican Brad Snowden did not attend.

Much of the forum focused on bringing natural gas to the Interior and how the candidates would deal with Fairbanks' high energy costs.

Walker, the former Valdez mayor, has made an "all-Alaska" pipeline route from the North Slope to Valdez the centerpiece of his campaign. During the 90-minute forum, he frequently brought up the importance of the project and chastised Parnell for moving too slowly.

"It's our time to do this," he said. "We've waited and waited and waited and studied this to death."

Parnell said he isn't bound to any particular pipeline route and that he'll look at whichever route is the most viable.

Samuels, a former state representative from Anchorage, said a smaller gas line to Fairbanks should be the top priority and would do more to help local consumers.

French said Alaskans should insist on a high-capacity gas line, since it's hard to make small quantities of gas economically viable. The project itself should be led by private industry, he said, not the state. He touted the project as part of his theme of strengthening the state's infrastructure, specifically mentioning improvements to the Dalton Highway.

Heikes, a Palmer contractor who described himself as a "Constitutional Christian conservative," focused on having a state-run cooperative to stabilize oil and gas prices. Hlatcu, an Anchorage engineer, touted transportation projects, including an improved railroad network.

Little, a truck driver, at one point pulled out a deck of cards, saying his four "aces" would be reinstating the longevity bonus, building a refinery in the state, helping Delta farmers, and giving road and ferry access to Yukon River villages.

The candidates differed on their views of the proposed Pebble Mine development, but none gave an outright endorsement of the project. Only Heikes said he would support Ballot Measure 1 on the fall ballot, which would prohibit the use of public funds for lobbying and campaigning and would ban people with government contracts or their family members from making political contributions.

One of the lighter moments of the forum came when Parnell visibly squirmed when asked whether he supported Fairbanks attorney Joe Miller or Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate.

Parnell eventually said he would support whoever wins the primary; Walker and Little later gave the same answer.

Samuels and Hlatcu said they back Murkowski, while Heikes endorsed Miller. French opted for Democrat Scott McAdams, the mayor of Sitka.

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