Legislative hopefuls posed possible solutions to inequities in state hiring of Alaska Natives at a candidate forum held Monday night at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall.
A panel of Native leaders said about 6,200 Alaska Natives live in the city of Juneau, but fewer than 4 percent of state employees are Native.
The candidates were asked how they would provide more state jobs for Alaska Natives.
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District 4 House candidate Bruce Weyhrauch said the governor must tell commissioners the number of Natives working for the state has to reflect the demographics of the community. Legislators could provide checks on the governor's direction by reviewing the number of Native employees during the budgeting process.
Democratic incumbent Sen. Kim Elton agreed. Elton said he believes in maintaining quotas for admissions to college and for contracts with government jobs. He added projects in rural communities should give locals preference on the jobs, and if they're not qualified, the contract should mandate they be trained.
"We will never catch up in the inequities of hiring if we don't have well-trained people and we don't have an opportunity for members of minority classes to contract for government jobs," Elton said.
Rep. Beth Kerttula, the Democratic incumbent representing House District 3, said Natives not only need to be hired by the state, but they also need to be put in positions of power.
"The sad fact is that this statistic bears out in the opposite in our prisons and our jails. A higher percentage of Native Alaskans are in our jails right now that shouldn't be because of our population," she said, noting a good education and good jobs would change that statistic.
House District 3 candidate Mike Race said the university is "the mechanism to get people employment."
Technical training at the University of Alaska Southeast, for instance, prepared workers for jobs in the Greens Creek Mine on Admiralty Island, Race said.
"There's no reason that this problem exists at all," Race said.
Moira Smith, Southeast coordinator for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Fran Ulmer, said the university is key to the success of all Alaskans.
"One of the proposals that Fran has put forward ... is the possibility, and this isn't state government, but I'd like to address it because I think it's important, is the possibility of hiring a significantly larger number of Native teachers into rural areas in Alaska," Smith said.
No representative of GOP candidate for governor Frank Murkowski spoke at the forum.
Republican Senate candidate Cathy Muñoz said she would urge the next governor to support hiring Natives to an equal proportion to their makeup in society.
She agreed distance learning in rural areas also is important and could help to fill shortages in critical areas such as nursing and education.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.