War of Words: Senate Candidates Debate in Soldotna
The responses at Tuesday's U.S. senate forum, co-sponsored by both Kenai and Soldotna chambers of commerce and the Alaska Industry Support Alliance, were as varied and unique as the candidates running.
Mayor of Anchorage Mark Begich, a Democrat, Libertarian David Haase and Alaskan Independence Party candidate Bob Bird squared off at the Soldotna Sports Center in front of a full crowd. Incumbent U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens was unable to attend the debate.
On the issue of the No Child Left Behind Act, Begich opposed it, saying the act neglects the uniqueness of rural Alaska communities. He said the focus should be on putting resources back into the communities so parents and teachers can decide what's right for education.
Haase also opposed the act.
"I think it's basically a scheme to psychologically profile our young kids so they can be spoon fed down the road," Haase said. He said the focus should be on 15- to 17-year-old students. Haase wants to see the development of apprentice programs in schools.
"There's absolutely no authorization for a single penny from the federal government in educational dollars," Bird said. He said politicians need to follow the constitution.
"The interest is what's killing us," Haase said about America's current financial situation and the recent $700 billion bailout. "As long as we don't face the issue of interest, we're never going to get out of debt. It's absolutely impossible."
Bird said constitutional principles need to be looked at first before determining whether or not an idea is a good one. He used phrases such as "ridiculous merits" and "reckless investments" to describe the financial crisis.
"This is econ 101 and I know few of these congressmen either know that or even read the constitution," Bird said.
Begich said Wall Street and corporations are the root cause of the problem but they're the ones who are "getting off scott free." Those responsible for the situation need to pay for it, he said.
"(The bailout plan) didn't take (into account) the folks that are working hard every single day," Begich said.
Both Begich and Haase supported oil exploartion in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge but Bird neither supported or opposed the issue.
"I am not going to sell out our birthright for a mess of pottage," Bird said. He said if ANWR is green-lighted, he will hold the project to Alaska's mandated statehood act's guidelines.
"The constitution begins with 'We the people of the United States,' not 'We the judges of the United States,' and this is how I'm going to take back the constitution," Bird said about the project.
Begich said ANWR needs to be better explained to the people so they can understand its importance to the entire country.
"This is a moment in time for us as Alaskans, not to let circumstances decide who our senator is, but to make a choice this cycle to make sure we have people on both sides of the aisle because that's what we've been missing the last 40 years," Begich said.
Haase said because he doesn't have an allegiance to either major party he will be able to convince enough swing voters to pass ANWR.
"I think they can be convinced," Haase said. "If anybody can do it, I can." He also said Alaska needs to be able to export oil.
All three candidates had negative views on the North American Free Trade Agreement.
"NAFTA is just the beginning of our indentured servitude coming," Haase said.
Bird cited the Nikishka Beach access ban as an example of Americans' civil liberties being taken away.
Begich said in future trade agreements he would like to see more aggressive labor rights, human rights issues better addressed and fair and balanced trade.
At the end of the debate, Sen. Ted Stevens' daughter, Sue Covich, read a prepared statement from her father. In it, Stevens said ANWR must be opened. He also supported investing in alternative energy, a natural gas pipeline and affordable health care for Alaskans. "My mission for Alaska is not complete," he said about seeking another term.
"I offer you a short term loss for a long term goal," Bird said. "The sooner we get rid of the addiction of federal control in our lives ... the more free we will be. The only thing I will offer you is freedom, not money."
Haase said Stevens has earned disrespect from liberals in Washington. He will be fresh and that's an advantage he has over Sen. Stevens.
"I'm not looking at who's a Democrat and who's a Republican, but how to get things done for this state and for this country," Begich said.
Begich closed by saying we need more dreamers in Congress.
"There are many things that people tell me we can't do," he said. "What I always look at is what we can do and that's what Congress needs more of."