- Associated Press - Friday, October 24, 2014

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - Republican Alaska incumbent Gov. Sean Parnell and independent challenger Bill Walker weighed in on various issues Friday during a candidate forum at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention in Anchorage.

Parnell told the audience that his administration has worked hard on improving education opportunities in rural Alaska, including efforts to equalize school construction across the state.

Walker, whose running mate is an Alaska Native, said he would push to develop opportunities through technical training that could create more opportunities for local hires.

The candidates gave different views on health care.

Walker said he would expand Medicaid, saying it’s something Alaskans have already paid for.

“But to me, it’s not really a money issue,” he said. “It’s a human decency issue. We’re Alaskans. We take care of Alaskans.”

Parnell said he does not support Medicaid expansion in its present form, saying it would place too much financial burden on states. He said the “notion that we’ve somehow paid for it” is false.

“The little secret is that we haven’t paid for it,” Parnell said, adding that people’s children and grandchildren will ultimately bear the cost of the federal debt. “There’s just no way around that fact.”

Regarding public safety in rural Alaska, Parnell said his commitment to putting village public safety officers in every community that wants them has led to the force being more than double what it was in 2007. He also noted his support for successful legislation this year that will allow VPSOs to be armed.

Walker said arming VPSOs is a good step in the right direction, with appropriate training. So would strengthening tribal justice systems, which he described as a “significant disconnect” in Alaska. He said the solution to creating a better safety net for rural residents is for a better relationship between the tribes and the state.

The candidates were asked if they agree with a recent federal court ruling that found the state elections division failed in its duty to assist Native speakers. The court ordered the state to take additional steps to provide voting materials to Alaska Native voters with limited English for the November election. The ruling was in response to a lawsuit brought on by several Native villages.

Parnell noted that that the court found the state showed no intentional discrimination, but had some shortcomings in the early voting process being carried out.

Walker said his administration would engage in more communication and less litigation, noting that his running mate, Byron Mallott would be in charge of elections as lieutenant governor. Mallott is a Tlingit who was born in the southeast Alaska village of Yakutat.

Concluding the forum, the candidates were invited to say one good thing about their opponents.

Both Parnell and Walker noted the strong family ties their rivals have.

The AFN convention is the state’s largest yearly gathering of Alaska Natives.

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Follow Rachel D’Oro at https://twitter.com/rdoro

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