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Top gubernatorial hopefuls take center stage at tourism conference

Amanda Bohman
Daily News-Miner
October 10, 2018

FAIRBANKS — The Democratic, Republican and Independent candidates for Alaska governor answered tourism-related questions in front of an audience of about 500 people at a state travel industry conference in Fairbanks on Tuesday.

The tone was mellow and the candidates were polished. Gov. Bill Walker, the incumbent and an Independent, former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat, and former Alaska Sen. Mike Dunleavy, a Republican, agreed that marketing Alaska and maintaining state infrastructure would be priorities for their administrations.

They were asked four questions about their vision for tourism, their plan for destination marketing, their feelings about working with the federal government and their favorite Alaska places.

“What I want to make sure you know is that you are not going to have a governor that is going to do things to you, but help you grow your business,” Dunleavy told the visitor industry officials gathered at the Carlson Center.

Walker stressed his trips abroad, soliciting business for Alaska.

“That’s what we’ve done. The results have been phenomenal,” the governor said.

Begich said that when he was mayor of Anchorage, he welcomed interviews with the international media.

“I always made the time no matter what,” he said.

He added that the tourism industry needs “good infrastructure and good policies protecting our resources.”

John Binkley, who ran for governor in the 2006 Republican primary, made warm introductions, noting each candidates’ background, public service and connections to rural Alaska. Binkley’s family owns the Riverboat Discovery in Fairbanks, and he is on the board of the Alaska Travel Industry Association, the state-wide trade group that hosted the forum.

The moderator was Matt Atkinson, co-owner of the Northern Alaska Tour Co.

The first question was, “What is your vision for Alaska’s visitor industry and its role in our economy?”

Walker’s vision is visitors 12 months a year. He said he would hustle — by traveling internationally — to help bring in the business.

Dunleavy promised to listen to the industry and to avoid adding new taxes and fees.

Begich talked about the need to get beyond “this kind of toxic political fights every year.”

When the candidates were asked how they would prioritize destination marketing, Begich called on the state to find a way to “box it in.”

“Even in bad times, you have to invest,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure it’s sustainable beyond us, beyond the personality that gets in office.”

Dunleavy talked about infrastructure improvements and said he would look to increase fish and game stocks.

“Really having Alaska in great shape, I think, is going to grow this industry tremendously,” he said.

The forum ended on a light note with the candidates naming their favorite Alaska places.

Begich named Hope, Homer, Alyeska and Sitka.

“I love driving,” he said.

Dunleavy said, “Everywhere I go, it’s a wow.” He mentioned both the Glenn and Denali Highways.

Walker said Prince William Sound is a special place to him.

“Alaska — we are pretty darned blessed to be where we are,” he said.

Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7587. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMborough.

Categories: News