- Associated Press - Friday, October 21, 2016

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and rival Joe Miller shared the debate stage Friday for the first time since Miller entered Alaska’s Senate race last month.

They were joined by Democrat Ray Metcalfe and independent Margaret Stock during a candidate forum at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention in Fairbanks, which was broadcast statewide.

Issues raised during the forum included the federal health care law, the potential for changes to the criminal justice system and areas of importance to the Native community that the candidates would impress upon the next administration.

Murkowski and Miller have history: Miller beat Murkowski in the 2010 Republican primary only to watch Murkowski retain her seat with a successful general election write-in campaign.

The Alaska Federation of Natives, the state’s largest Alaska Native group, endorsed Murkowski in her write-in bid and a political group formed by Alaska Native corporations also backed Murkowski’s historic 2010 run.

This time around, leaders of several Alaska Native regional corporations have endorsed Murkowski, her campaign has said.

Miller is running as a Libertarian, joining the ticket as a last-minute substitution last month after Cean Stevens withdrew her candidacy.

Friday’s event was one of two debates or forums in which Murkowski and Miller are both expected to participate. The other is a public media debate scheduled for Nov. 3.

On the issue of health care, Murkowski said the federal law has some good pieces, such as protecting those with pre-existing conditions and allowing children to remain on their parents’ insurance longer.

But she said unaffordable high premiums and deductibles are a concern for Alaska families and said the law hasn’t reduced the cost of care.

Miller said the health care law did more harm than good.

“The decisions that we make have to be smart,” he said. “They have to be directed toward, for example, market-based solutions where we can.”

Stock said issues she’d flag for a new administration include the need for substantial investments in the Arctic and the impact of climate change on Alaska Native communities.

Later, she talked about the need to protect the earth. Miller said that’s important to him, too.

“But we must extract wealth from the earth. We need to create jobs and purpose,” which Alaska has the ability to do, Miller said.

Murkowski shied away from the requested yes-or-no response during a rapid-fire round on whether the candidates would support confirmation of a Supreme Court justice during the upcoming lame duck congressional session.

The Senate for months has refused to take up President Barack Obama’s nominee, with Republicans arguing the next president should fill the existing opening. In responding to the question, Murkowski said there needs to be a confirmation process.

Metcalfe said the U.S. needs to get rid of private prisons, and he said people should not lose their right to vote for any reason.

Voting, he said, is a “sacred right that should never be infringed.”

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