Alaskans host debate in US House race

JUNEAU, Alaska — U.S. Representative for Alaska Mary Peltola in a televised debate on Wednesday called partisanship a threat to the country as the Democrat seeks to make the case for re-election to the seat she holds since September against challengers, including Republican Sarah Palin.

Peltola defeated Palin and Republican Nick Begich in a ranked August special election to fill the remainder of late Republican Rep. Don Young’s term. These three, along with libertarian Chris Bye, are running in the Nov. 8 election for a full two-year term, beginning in January. This election will also be a ranked choice. All four candidates participated in the debate.

Palin and Peltola have been cordial towards each other; Peltola’s time at the State House overlapped with Palin’s time as governor, and the two had kind words for each other on Wednesday night. But Palin spoke out against Alaska’s ranked choice voting system, approved by voters in 2020 as part of an election overhaul. Palin, in an opinion piece published by the Anchorage Daily News this week, said the system, first used in the special election won by Peltola, had “produced the travesty of sending a Democrat to the Congress to represent Alaska, one of the reddest states in the country.”

Palin joined Begich in urging voters to “file the reds” or Republican candidates.

The preferential voting system was not among the topics raised during the debate, which touched on issues such as inflation concerns, suicides among military veterans and the pandemic.

When asked if the government should be able to mandate vaccinations, Begich, Bye and Palin said no. Peltola said she doesn’t think they should be required “on a national level,” but said she was concerned about pandemics.

Peltola, who has presented herself as a coalition builder and called for more civility in politics, said partisanship “is the No. 1 threat to our country, both in terms of foreign policy and domestic policy.” She said policy makers should work together on these issues. But she said there is “a tradition now in America of killing each other, just to get into office.”

Begich said the political divide is an “outgrowth” of differences in philosophy between the Republican and Democratic parties. He said having these discussions is good.

Peltola went on to praise Palin’s willingness to work across party lines as governor. During part of the debate in which the candidates questioned each other, Peltola asked Palin how she could work with the Biden administration and Democrats in Congress.

Palin said that although she and Peltola have different political stances, she has “great respect” for Peltola.

“I hope my record proves that, again, I’m capable of playing as a teammate. I know what it takes to win,” Palin said. The 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee, who stood next to Peltola on the debate stage, said it was a time when there was “a politics of self-destruction and lies, in the campaigns in particular,” and that it was “encouraging to stand next to someone who gets it.”

Bye said many Alaskans are “terrified when they hear about bipartisanship because it really means both sides coming together to gang up on taxpayers.”

Begich said it was “important that we communicate with each other, but I’m not about to hold hands as we cross the fiscal cliff.”

“Sometimes you have to be tough, you have to be tough, you have to be firm, and those are the things we need as a nation,” he said.

Begich spoke out against Palin ahead of the special election, questioning her seriousness as a candidate and portraying her as a quitter. Palin resigned as governor midway through her term in 2009. Palin’s is a household name; she is well known in conservative politics and has appeared on reality television programs. She argued that she would use her profile to benefit Alaska.

Begich also took aim at Peltola, seeking to link her to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Speaker Joe Biden.

Peltola wore one of Young’s bolo ties, which was presented to him last week at the Federation of Alaska Natives convention in Anchorage by one of Young’s daughters.

Young held Alaska’s sole seat for 49 years. He died in March. Begich’s grandfather, the late U.S. Representative Nick Begich, a Democrat, was in the seat ahead of Young.

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