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Gubernatorial Candidates Spar on Interior, Statewide Issues During Fairbanks Debate

Fairbanks, AK - Two candidates running for Alaska Governor debated during a forum Tuesday in Fairbanks.  Both Bill Walker and Governor Sean Parnell touched on Fairbanks specific topics.  Mainly, Sean Parnell defended his administration when Bill Walker questioned what the current governor is doing about the high cost of energy in the Interior. "I am totally focused on reducing energy costs and fuel costs here in the Interior and across the state," Parnell said. "When I think about ways I have worked to do that, in this gasline negotiations and agreements that have been signed, I made sure Fairbanks residents would pay the lowest costs for gas whether that’s Cook Inlet prices or North Slope prices."

Questions came from audience members, forum sponsors and the candidates themselves. One audience member asked both Governor Parnell and Walker about how they might have prevented the closure of the Flint Hills Refinery in North Pole.  Bill Walker said the Governor simply didn’t do enough to keep the refinery open.

“Well the first thing I would have done," Walker said, "what they should have done is the Governor should have met with them after they came to see him months before the announcement of shutting down asking for help saying ‘we’re in trouble, can you help us?’ I would have gotten back to them to be part of the solution.”

Governor Parnell said he made an effort to keep the refinery open and he was surprised by the closure. “I told them this is your moment to go speak with the Attorney General," said the Governor. "Now my attorney general is Mike Geraghty, a Fairbanks boy. Do you really think he would just sit there and do nothing or do you think he went to work with it? I will admit the closing of the refinery is a huge blow.  It’s something that caught me by surprise, but it is not something that I anticipated.”

The two candidates also sparred on light-hearted questions like whether they preferred studded to rubber tires for winter driving and if they use paper or plastic bags for grocery shopping.  When it was his turn, Governor Parnell asked his opponent how he might address anticipated funding cuts to the University system in coming years.

“Given that in other debates, you’ve said that education is on the table for cuts and Medicaid is on the table for cuts, is University funding on the table for 16 percent funding reduction?” Governor Parnell asked.

Walker responded saying all departments that fall under the state’s umbrella must be evaluated for efficiencies. “I will look across the board," said Walker. "We have to look at this entire state to find out what we need to do, but it won’t be exclusive, it will be inclusive.  I will certainly meet with the University.  Of course I will.”

The candidates also touched on state-wide issues including their opinions on three ballot measures on this year’s General Election ballot as well as environmental development, extending Medicaid payments, the state’s budget and the valuation of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. The forum was hosted by the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce.  It was sponsored by the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, the Associated Builders and Contractors Incorporated, and Fairbanks Laborers Local 442.