Saturday, March 22, 2008
Some Thoughts on the Kodiak Candidate Debate
Thursday evening's debate at the Kodiak High School auditorium, on fisheries issues, featuring five of the six candidates for Alaska's at-large U.S. Congressional seat, was well covered and solidly produced by KMXT public radio. The moderator and journalist questioners were more on-the-ball than I had expected. The candidates were reasonably prepared for most kinds of questions they might have expected.
I missed all but the last few minutes live. I teach at Eagle River Community college on Thursday evenings, so I was describing the end of the Romantic period and beginning of the 20th century in classical music to 30 young people, as the debate occurred. But KMXT had audio of the debates up early today, so I listened to it in snips as I could.
The clear losers were Don Young and Sean Parnell. Young, partially because he had to do very well to keep from losing ground, partially because you could sense no feeling of loyalty in the audience toward him. Nobody clapped for anything Young said all evening.
Parnell, because he wasn't there and hasn't yet released a statement on issues that came up.
Jake Metcalfe sort of stood by himself as neither a loser nor a winner. He had to remind the audience four times that he's a "real"Alaskan. His grasp of fishery issues was clearly the weakest of any candidate on the stage. His litany that processes solve problems as long as they're fair and transparent, whether the problem is the privatization of common resources, alternative energy development, or Pebble Mine, fell totally flat. When he tried to be passionate, he came off - as he often does - as a nice guy. Nothing more, nothing less.
Diane Benson, sandwiching her Kodiak trip between a successful set of New York City area fundraisers and the conclusion of filming her story of Elizabeth Peratrovich in Juneau, was honest in explaining a lack of depth of knowledge on commercial fishing problems. She wasted valuable time by asking Ethan Berkowitz a question about maritime issues when Berkowitz was in the State House, that couldn't have concerned Ethan. Benson handled a couple of the questions better than the other candidates - those of educating young people to take jobs at sea through our university system, and the importance of rebuilding our international relationships after eight years of the Bush administration's backing away from any multi-lateralism.
Ethan Berkowitz connected with the audience best of the three Democratic Party candidates. His passion in some of the areas resonated more than anyone there with the audience, getting him the most laughs of the evening. His opening and closing statements were those of a polished politician. He was the most vehement on decrying the privatization of fishing resources as a detriment to coastal communities.
Gabrielle LeDoux clearly won the debate. She's been to far more FishCom affairs than all the other candidates combined. She had the home court advantage. Her solutions to problems showed a long-standing acquaintance with Western Alaska fishery history.
More importantly, she was openly critical of Don Young on several occasions. And she tied his failures directly to the event's agenda, which none of the other Young opponents managed to do. Young even tipped his hat to her on that.
LeDoux had to attack. She's fighting a battle to keep her fundraising machine going now that it is competing with the Palin insurgency's least revolutionary or evolutionary figure, soon-to-be ex-Lt. Governor Sean Parnell.
How hard Gabrielle pushes during the remaining days of the legislative session when she's back in the Juneau fish bowl with Parnell could be a fascinating story. It might be interesting to see if she can manage to finesse the Palin administration into soon revealing whether Parnell was encouraged to run against Young in hopes that he beat Young, or to get him out of the administration. I've got a hunch Parnell's just been finessed by Palin, and doesn't know it yet.