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Fleener Running for Alaska Lt. Gov. – ‘One of the Most Boring Jobs’

Craig Fleener, Gwich’in Athabascan, an independent candidate for Alaska lt. governor, wants to see more Alaska Native interaction with the state.

Political blogger Amanda Coyne, founder of the Alaska Dispatch, referred to the Alaska lieutenant governor’s office as “one of the most boring jobs in state government and not that much more exciting to report on.”

The lieutenant governor’s responsibilities include supervising elections, administering the citizens’ initiative process, filing administrative regulations, commissioning public notaries, authenticating signatures of state officials, and protecting the state seal from unauthorized commercial use. (In May, Public Policy Polling of Raleigh, North Carolina, asked 582 Alaska voters if they had a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the current lieutenant governor; 36 percent responded “not sure”).

Craig Fleener wants to make the job a more dynamic force in Alaska life.

Fleener, Gwich’in Athabascan, is an independent candidate for Alaska lieutenant governor. He’s running on a ticket with former Valdez mayor Bill Walker, a lawyer specializing in oil, gas and municipal law.

Should they win, Walker is expected to assign Fleener to positions where he can put to work his experience in Arctic policy, military and veterans affairs, Alaska Native issues, and wildlife and fisheries management.

That’s what Fleener said he asked for when Walker asked him to run. He said they were introduced in September 2013 by a mutual friend. “We didn’t talk politics initially, we just started talking,” Fleener said. They found they thought alike on numerous issues; they met again and Walker asked Fleener to join him. Fleener resigned as state deputy fish and game commissioner in October and the campaign was on.

Should they win, it would be the first time the governor and lieutenant governor were both Alaska-born. Fleener would be the second Alaska Native to serve as lieutenant governor. (Loren Leman, from Ninilchik, was lieutenant governor from 2002-06).

Fleener, 47, brings some credentials to the campaign. He has a graduate degree in intelligence studies from American Public University and an undergraduate degree in natural resources management from University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

He helped develop the circumpolar biodiversity monitoring program for the organization Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna, which is comprised of representatives of eight nations. He co-chaired the Yukon River Panel, established by treaty between the U.S. and Canada to manage the river’s salmon population; and chaired Gwich’in Council International, a non-profit established to ensure all regions of the Gwich'in Nation have a role in the development of policies that relate to the Circumpolar Arctic. He also chaired a U.S. Interior Department advisory council on subsistence in Alaska’s Eastern Interior.

Fleener served on the Alaska Board of Game, Alaska Native Health Board, and on the Gwichyaa Zhee Gwich’in Tribal Council. He served as deputy mayor of Fort Yukon and as wildlife biologist and executive director of the Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments. He is a major in the U.S. Air Force Alaska Air National Guard. He has four grown children and resides in Anchorage with his wife, Uliana, and their daughter, Sophia.

The general election is November 4; as independents, Walker and Fleener will skip the August 19 primary. All told, there are eight candidates for governor, including the incumbent, Sean Parnell, Republican; and Democrat Byron Mallott, an Alaska Native who served as mayor of Yakutat and Juneau.

Fleener is one of six candidates for lieutenant governor.

Here’s where Walker and Fleener stand on the issues:

Pebble Mine: “In areas such as the Pebble project and other areas where there are concerns about impacts on fisheries, we will be very cautious to avoid negatively impacting our valuable renewable resources,” Walker wrote on his campaign website.

Fleener told ICTMN he supports mining in general, “but not at the risk of our non-renewable resources. If it’s true [Pebble] would have a detrimental impact on our natural habitat, I would oppose it.”

Oil and gas development: According to Walker, “Alaskans [are] saddled with the highest energy costs in the nation. Ironic, and embarrassing, for one of the most energy rich areas on the globe.”

According to the Alaska Resource Development Council, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System is currently two-thirds empty and daily oil production dropped from 590,000 barrels in 2012 to 531,000 in 2013.

Senate Bill 21, approved in 2013, cut certain taxes and created new incentives for oil producers to encourage more investment and production. But oil production is expected to decline to 312,000 barrels per day in 2023, according to state forecasts. And, the Anchorage Daily News reports, the state Department of Revenue projects “years of deficit spending consuming the state's savings” since the passage of SB 21. (The Washington Post, however, quoted Revenue Commissioner Angela Rodell as saying that SB 21 has attracted investments from oil companies, including $10 billion in North Slope production over the next 10 years).

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Walker proposes ending tax cuts for producers that don’t increase production, and said it is “unacceptable” for North Slope leaseholders “to warehouse Alaska’s natural gas while they continue to develop competing projects around the globe.”

Walker and Fleener support developing oil and gas resources across the state and promise to “aggressively pursue” infrastructure development – roads, rail, ports, communications – with that in mind.

Fleener said the state should, as part of a comprehensive energy policy, support solar, wind and hydropower development; clean coal technologies; domestic and offshore oil drilling; and “realistic, economically viable conservation programs.”

In addition, Fleener said local governments and Alaska Native communities must have a voice “in assessing the impacts to their residents and their ways of life from planned development in their regions.”

Balanced budget requirement. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, “some authorities in Alaska contend that it does not have an explicit requirement for a balanced budget.” According to Fleener, “To keep Alaska strong and on solid footing, we must ensure that the legislative and administrative branches enact a balanced budget annually except in times of unforeseen disaster or emergency.”

Wildlife and fisheries management. According to Fleener, wildlife and fisheries resources must be managed so they "meet subsistence, personal use, sport, and commercial uses, with the ultimate priority … being subsistence in order for Alaskans to feed their families.”

Alaska Native Issues. Fleener would involve Alaska Native tribes in dialogue on issues such as courts, cultural preservation, education, health care, law enforcement, natural resources management, and subsistence.

“I think tribes have wanted more of a government-to-government approach. That hasn’t happened,” Fleener said. “I also want to bring non-tribal members to the table. We need to talk about the issues holding us back.”

Public safety reform. Sexual assault and other violent crime, substance abuse, suicide, and recidivism are trending upward, according to the Walker-Fleener campaign. “We must be more aggressive on crime by first ensuring that our officers are properly trained, that there are adequate numbers of officers, and we should consider developing a Public Safety Board to ensure that all Alaskans have a voice in public safety,” Fleener wrote on his campaign website.

Education improvements. “Our graduation rates are among the lowest in the nation,” Walker wrote on his campaign website. “Yet, we have some innovative programs with high graduation rates and huge waiting lists. Let’s revamp more of what’s not working into something that is.”

Medicaid expansion. According to Walker, Alaska’s current administration chose participation in the Affordable Care Act over Medicaid expansion, “forcing uninsured Alaskans into ACA exchanges. As governor, I would reverse this and accept the Medicaid expansion.”

Walker said Medicaid would provide lower-cost coverage for 40,000-plus Alaskans, “and Alaskans have already paid for this coverage.” Walker also supports re-structuring the state’s processes “to ensure expedient payment of Medicaid claims to health care providers.”

Different polls, different results

How is the Walker-Fleener campaign faring?

In May, Public Policy Polling, an independent firm in Raleigh, North Carolina, surveyed 582 Alaska voters. Parnell was preferred by 37 percent of respondents; Mallott, 27 percent; Walker, 17 percent.

A poll commissioned by the Walker-Fleener campaign shows Parnell as being more vulnerable. Ivan Moore Research polled 584 voters June 19-23. Parnell was the preference of 42.3 percent of respondents; Walker, 28.5 percent; Mallott, 16.1 percent; not sure, 13.2 percent.

Asked to choose between Parnell and Walker, and the margin was 46.3 to 45.1 percent. Asked to choose between Parnell and Mallott, the governor led 54.9 percent to Mallott’s 34 percent.

Meanwhile, getting to skip the primary and focus on the general election, Walker prepares for nine gubernatorial candidates debates between August 14 and October 29.