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2020 Election: Republican Senate District B Candidates Spar Over PFD, Partisanship

Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce/screenshot

The rhetoric between two candidates vying to represent Fairbanks-area Senate District B heated up Tuesday in an online candidate forum sponsored by the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce. Conservative Republican Robert Myers and nonpartisan Marna Sanford clashed over the usual flashpoints of Alaska politics Tuesday on such questions as whether and how to cut the state’s budget.

“The problem here is that the state has simply grown too fast, too large. … And we need to reduce our spending down to something more sustainable,” Myers said.

But, Sanford said, “A 2-billion-dollar cut to our entire budget will not work. It’s completely unrealistic, and shouldn’t even be considered in serious conversation,” she said, referring to the size of the budget cut that experts say would be needed if the state stuck with a decades-old formula to set the amount of the annual Permanent Fund Dividend.

Myers says that’s what most Alaskans want, as reflected in the outcome of a 1999 ballot advisory question. But Sanford says things have changed since then.

“To compare what we’re experiencing now to something that we voted on over 20 years ago flies in the face of common sense,” she said.

Myers acknowledges that a lot of Alaskans didn’t like Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s deep cuts to state government last year. But, he added, “There’s an even bigger outcry over cutting the Permanent Fund Dividend.”

Credit Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce/screenshot
Marna Sanford, nonaffiliated candidate for Senate District B.

Both candidates exchanged sharp responses throughout the forum. Some of which came, ironically, in their answers to a question over whether American politics had become so bitterly partisan that it’s keeping elected officials from solving problems. Sanford said as a nonpartisan candidate she’s open to compromise, because she’s not beholden to either party. Myers countered by saying his research shows she’s a Democrat disguised as an independent.  

“I’ve gone through Ms. Sanford’s political donors – pretty far left, on almost all of those,” she said of those listed on her campaign-contribution forms. “I’ve gone through her position statements … I don’t see how she’s an independent. She looks pretty much like a Democrat, to me.”

Sanford grew up in Tok and now works for Tanana Chiefs Conference. She says the people of District B represent the whole political spectrum, and that most of those she’s talked to share her reluctance to identify with either political party.

“I’ve gotten a lot of support from all political parties,” she said, “and the largest party being people who find themselves in the middle. Call themselves independents, moderates, undeclared nonpartisans…”

Sanford is a member of the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly. She became Myers’ sole opponent after another nonaffiliated candidate, Evan Eads, quit the race last week and threw his support to Sanford. She says people in District B tell her they just want elected officials to do their jobs so, for example, their kids have decent schools. And she says that’s why lawmakers need to work together to develop a budget plan that doesn’t rely only on more cuts.

Myers is a truck driver who was born and raised in Salcha, and who once worked as a legislative aide. He now lives in North Pole. He pulled off a surprise primary election upset against longtime incumbent John Coghill by arguing, among other things, that Alaskans want their full PFD. He said that in turn would boost the state’s economy.

“Your philosophy seems to be that the only way that really anything happens is if government is involved or even leading the charge,” he said. “And I believe that it’s entirely possible for us to have a thriving private sector without the government being the main player in our economy or anywhere else, for that matter.”

The candidates did find one area they could agree on: They both said they support more federal funding to help businesses recover from losses incurred by COVID-19.

Correction: This story has been revised to correctly identify Robert Myers' last name.

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.