Boats in Petersburg’s Middle Harbor. (Photo by Angela Denning for KFSK)

Candidates for Alaska’s U.S. Senate race took part in a question and answer session at the Southeast Conference’s annual meeting in Ketchikan this week. Incumbent Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski joined the conference by video from DC. Republican Kelly Tshibaka and Democrat Pat Chesbro attended in person.

CoastAlaska’s Angela Denning reports:

The Southeast Conference brings together businesses and economic organizations from through the region. The U.S. Senate candidates answered questions about issues important to Southeast.

The candidates all said the Alaska Marine Highway System was essential, they supported growing technical education programs to develop the state’s local workforce, and they thought the Southeast region is a leader in renewable energy for its hydro power. But the candidates had a few different ideas on their approach to helping fisheries and the lack of affordable housing.

They were asked how they would you help Alaska get its fair share of international fisheries allocations.

Kelly Tshibaka said she would increase enforcement of federal waters through the U.S. Coast Guard.

“I strongly support increasing our Coast Guard aircraft, drones, cutters, and resources in Alaska to enforce our EEZ [exclusive economic zone],” Tshibaka said. “I also think we need to increase enforcement of our multi-billion dollar seafood industry.”

She also said she’d create a new fisheries management council to manage Alaska waters and the Bering Sea.

Pat Chesbro also saw more oversight as a possible solution.

“We could also strengthen our observer programs by having two observers maybe so that they don’t have to stay up 24 hours a day to check on the fish and check on the bycatch,” Chesbro said.

She said the country also needs to address climate change, which will affect its fisheries.

Murkowski said Alaska loses Chinook salmon allocation during every Pacific Salmon Treaty negotiation. She says what she can do as a federal lawmaker is to help with funding.

“Make sure that we are sufficiently funding the research. I have been doing that,” said Murkowski. “I’m making sure that we are getting the benefit from NOAA’s survey and research requirements. We need to make sure that every year, whether it’s the Pacific Salmon Treaty we have funded that to the level that has been requested.”

She said Alaska also needs to send its best and brightest negotiators to the table.

The candidates were also asked about housing and childcare, which have been identified as critical to Southeast’s economy. In a survey this year of over 400 Southeast businesses,  most said housing and childcare were their biggest challenges.

Chesbro chose to speak on childcare and said three and four-year-olds could be going to preschool. She said it needs to be an investment priority.

“And that means we need to invest not only in helping people to afford it, we need to invest in the people that provide it,” said Chesbro. “We need to have professional childcare workers, we know this is really important.”

Tshibaka said the state needs to get back millions of acres of land from the federal government to use. She said there needs to be more infrastructure in neighborhoods and slammed the Biden administration’s Trillion dollar infrastructure bill.

“The Biden administration has decided we will get no new roads from the infrastructure bill,” Tshibaka said. “That’s what happens when we make deals with the Biden administration. We help them, they don’t help us.”

Tshibaka accused the Biden administration several times throughout the Q and A session.

Murkowski countered that there is funding for new roads in the federal infrastructure bill and said Tshibaka’s remarks were wrong.

“Absolutely, flat out not true,” Murkowski said. “And she needs to look to that measure that not only builds out the road structure but also bridges, every aspect of really connection.”

She said the bill includes $23 million for Sitka alone to increase affordable housing.

The Southeast Conference annual meeting was held Sept. 13-15 in Ketchikan.  

Alaska Beacon has shared in depth, written Q and A’s with the U.S. Senate candidates:

Here is Murkowski’s Q and A.

Here is Pat Chesbro’s Q and A.

Kelly Tshibaka did not participate.