Statewide candidates pledged to strengthen university and public school funding at a Monday forum held at the University of Alaska Southeast.
The forum was organized by the UAS student government and included candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and the state House and Senate seats representing Juneau.
Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, the Democratic candidate for governor, said while serving as mayor of Juneau and as a representative in the Legislature she has been an advocate for the community of Juneau and for expanding UAS.
"When I was mayor of Juneau I fought very hard to get land made available to this campus to expand it - and we did, and you're sitting on it right now," Ulmer said.
As a state lawmaker Ulmer said she worked to provide funding for UAS to train students to work at the Greens Creek mine on Admiralty Island.
As governor, Ulmer said she would advocate reinstituting the student loan forgiveness program for teachers. She also would work to make the Alaska Scholars program permanent. The program provides $11,000 in scholarships to state schools for the top 10 percent of the state's high school graduates.
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Ulmer also committed to creating internships in the executive branch of government and encouraging partnerships between private health-care providers and the university system to address the growing demand for nurses in the state.
Ernie Hall, Ulmer's lieutenant governor running mate, said higher education in Alaska should focus on knowledge-based, technology industries like those in the Lower 48.
"We've seen it in communities like Austin, Texas, where universities have really been the driving force behind creating a technology industry very similar to the Silicon Valley in California," Hall said.
Sen. Loren Leman, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor and Senate majority leader, said his campaign is about "leadership, opportunity and hope."
"What opportunities are there going to be over the next 20 or 30 years?" Leman asked.
The senator said he and his gubernatorial running mate Frank Murkowski would provide new opportunities for the youth of Alaska.
Ronald Reagan, one of Leman's favorite presidents, had a statement on his desk while serving as governor of California that said: "A person can accomplish great things if they don't care who gets the credit."
Leman said everything that is accomplished in the Legislature is done so through a concerted effort, adding that the state needs the kind of leadership that cares more about getting things done than taking credit for what is accomplished.
Nov. 5 election
What's on the ballot
Whether to move legislative sessions out of Juneau.
Whether to OK a bond that would help pay for a new Juneau high school.
Whether to authorize an all-Alaska gas pipeline.
State senator for Juneau
State representatives for Juneau
A Murkowski-Leman administration would tap logging, mining, tourism and transportation resources to create opportunities in the state. Making use of such resources would help maintain funding of universities in Alaska, Leman said.
Murkowski was at work in Washington, D.C., and was unable to attend the forum.
Democratic Sen. Kim Elton, running for re-election to represent Juneau, said investing in education is the most important challenge facing the state.
"If you take a look around the United States and you look at those areas with a vibrant economy, it is not coincidental that those areas are centered around institutions of higher education that provide excellent education, and we need to do the same thing here," Elton said.
Elton touted the Juneau legislative delegation's record from the most recent legislative session, noting it acquired $16 million for road improvements, $7 million for ports and harbors and funding for the UAS recreation center and the University of Alaska Fairbanks fisheries research center at Lena Point.
Cathy Muñoz, the Republican candidate for Juneau's Senate seat, said her experience in the establishment of Juneau's first charter school helped familiarize her with the educational issues important to the community.
Like the Juneau Community Charter School, Muñoz said the state should support foreign language instruction in primary grades and take an active role in preserving Alaska's indigenous languages.
"When I was growing up in Alaska, it was very common to hear Native people speaking in Tlingit or in Haida," she said. "Well, now it's not as common today, and I think the state of Alaska needs to be very actively involved in the preservation of its indigenous languages."
Muñoz also called for a constitutional amendment to inflation-proof the earnings of the permanent fund and use a percentage for education. She encouraged students at the forum to vote in favor of Proposition C in the Nov. 5 general election, which would fund school and university construction and maintenance projects.
Beth Kerttula, the Democratic incumbent running for the House seat in District 3, said if re-elected she would continue to work to help Juneau remain the state's capital. She also promised to continue the efforts of the Legislature's fiscal policy caucus in devising a long-range fiscal plan.
Kerttula said funding education is investing in people who are thinking about the future and providing innovative ideas on how to run the state.
"You are the future," Kerttula told the small audience of university students. "Without education just think about what your lives would be like."
Kerttula's Republican opponent Mike Race did not attend the forum.
Democratic candidate Tim Grussendorf, who is running for the Juneau House seat representing District 4, said forging a long-range fiscal plan is critical to moving the state forward.
"It is the key to everything that the state needs to do in the future," Grussendorf said. "We can't begin to talk transportation, education, the university until that problem is attacked."
Legislative budget cuts were in order when lawmakers set forth a plan to trim state government, Grussendorf said, but now the state has to focus on creating revenues to help the economy grow.
Denny DeWitt, a volunteer in the campaign to elect Republican candidate Bruce Weyhrauch to House District 4, spoke in place of the candidate, who could not attend the forum due to business in Ketchikan.
DeWitt pointed to Weyhrauch's commitment to the community through his work in local Rotary Club organizations to create scholarships for high school students entering college.
Weyhrauch would endorse increased state spending only for public schools and at the university level, DeWitt said.
He also noted that as a lawyer in private practice in Juneau, Weyhrauch has worked in regulatory law, often representing those who have problems with the governmental process.
"As a result of that, he has a tremendous understanding of how government should and in some cases should not work," DeWitt said.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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