Last weekend, west Anchorage state house candidates Anand Dubey and Matt Claman faced off in an AARP candidate forum, on the third floor of the Millennium Hotel. Set against the backdrop of the other campaigns in the neighborhood, the race has garnered the least attention.
This is Dubey’s second campaign for the seat. He lost by ten points to Democrat-turned-Republican, incumbent-turned-retiring Rep. Lindsey Holmes. His previous bid was a bit underwhelming, at one point comparing the federal government’s relationship with Alaska as akin to “master and slave.”
This time around, he’s picked up more support, including from a small group on the left, including Nick Moe, who lost a narrow race to Assemblyman Ernie Hall as a write-in candidate, and Alaska Commons contributor Kokayi Nosakhere.
Claman is a former Anchorage Assemblyman who served briefly as acting mayor when Begich won a seat in the U.S. Senate. Ernie Hall unseated him in 2010, in a 21-point upset.
As Amanda Coyne opined, quoting Rep. Harriet Drummond’s (D-Anchorage) husband: “As Elstun Lauesen put it: ‘Matt Claman seems to inspire progressives to go nuts when he runs for office.’ Why this is the case is a mystery, and nobody seems interested in explaining it to me.”
Former editor of the Anchorage Press, Brenden Joel Kelly, once described Claman simply as “an uncharismatic assemblyman[.]”
It didn’t appear that either candidate had drastically improved his game. Claman displayed a broad understanding of the issues covered, but was fairly robotic in delivery (not that adept speaking skills should be required; I’d take boring over crazy in politics any day of the week).
Dubey, on the other hand, was lively and often passionate (devolving into outright anger at times), but seemed to have little clue about the subject matter, which ranged from elderly care to social security to access to health care.
Claman criticized Gov. Parnell’s decision not to participate in Medicaid expansion. “We needed to accept it months ago. We need to accept it today,” he said.
“Three years from now, the state has to put more money in and might end up hurting us,” Dubey countered. “Other than Jesus Christ, I don’t know a single person who could make bread and wine out of nothing.”
The expansion, which would have benefited 40,000 or more Alaskans — including those without current health insurance — would be funded 100 percent by the federal government through 2016. The federal funds would drop to 90 percent after that. From 2014 to 2016, the state would spend a little over $90 million for the expansion while getting over $1.1 billion in federal funds. The Health Policy Center estimates that opting into the expansion would “cut the number of uninsured by more than half[.]”
The candidates also split on whether or not Alaska should return to a defined benefits plan. The legislature passed a law in 2005 that moved the state to a 401(k)-style plan, meaning that workers hired after that date were responsible for their own retirements. Alaska is the only state without a defined benefit system or participation in social security. Democrats say this makes it harder to recruit employees and exacerbates turnover, but Republicans warn that reverting to a defined benefits plan runs the risk of running out of money.
Dubey called defined benefits plans a pyramid scheme. “Of course we want to provide good benefits to teachers because its a very important job,” he said. But as a financial adviser, he said he wasn’t going to offer voters a “feel good answer,” and said defined benefits were unsustainable.
Claman said he supported switching back to a defined benefits program, calling it straightforward. He said that the state would need to budget in the possibility that some employees would live longer than the average life expectancy. “Let’s get back to pension plans. It’s a better way to provide financial retirement for our seniors.”
“So, you want to see his model, look at the way he’s handled the city for six months,” Dubey interjected after Claman’s response. “That’s all I’ll say.”
Dubey likely was referencing new campaign literature from the Accountability Project, which has been appearing in west Anchorage, targeting Claman’s record as mayor. The literature cites the Chugiak/Eagle River Star (with no functioning links), the white supremacist blog AlaskaPride, and links from the Juneau Empire and Anchorage Daily News — articles that actually refute the claims listed in the literature.
Claman quickly responded by emailing supporters his own link to a 2009 Anchorage Daily News (now Alaska Dispatch News) editorial that concluded: “During a short but troubled period, Claman demonstrated leadership skills that carried the city forward.”
The same link to the same article was included in the Accountability Project’s mailers. Awkward.
On education, Claman said he supports inflation-proofing the base student allocation. Dubey does not. “Of course we want to adequately fund public education, but I will not be held hostage to an equation,” he said. He compared Alaska’s public education system to his experience with education in India: “Some of these kids were educated under a tree on a blackboard.” He said that the discussion about funding education had become about protecting an institution, not “producing people that can compete at a level.”
Both took a strong stance against what an audience question described as “voter control;” efforts like voter identification laws. Both also oppose the legalization of marijuana, stating they’d prefer decriminalization. Dubey and Claman also support ballot measure three, which would raise the minimum wage. Dubey added an odd caveat:
The biggest danger here is the crowd of people that are pushing these artificial, let’s say, tinkering of economic models. That’s a bigger danger. The same folks that are now pushing $7.75 or $8.75 also reached out to a bunch of us and talked about this whole concept of living wage, fair wage, and they talk about $35 an hour; $40 an hour. And what happens is that, you know, once you get into this model of — we’re going to get so many people involved in the election model — there was another word for it. Called communism.
Because the problem with communism is that it over compensates workers.
Unfortunately for Dubey, his performance continued to devolve in rather large fashion. Several audience members submitted questions about, as debate moderator Sean Doogan phrased it, “the legality of abortion.” The topic seemed to frustrate Dubey.
I know why you’re asking the question because, obviously, differentiations have to be made because I’m running as a Republican and obviously I have to be anti-woman and anti-everything else. Well, guys, that’s a federal issue. Very rarely does the state legislature get to do anything. I have strong respect for life. I have Hinduism and Christianity in my DNA. I just cannot kill things. That’s just me, right? That doesn’t mean that I’ll legislate a woman’s body. That’s [Matt Claman’s] job. He’s the attorney man.
“Actually, it’s kind of interesting, the suggestion that since I’m an attorney I’m here to legislate women’s rights. No, Mr. Dubey, it’s just not true,” Claman responded. “I’m here running for office because I respect women’s privacy rights and I’m never going to compromise. I don’t think government should get involved in that.”
He said every year bills are proposed in Juneau affecting women’s right to privacy, including abortion, and he opposes that sort of legislation.
Last session, the legislature passed a law defining what was considered a medically necessary abortion eligible for Medicaid reimbursements. Claman is correct in his assertion that bills pertaining to abortion have come up every legislative session spanning several years.
The final question asked how the candidates would support more technical and IT training. Claman reemphasized increasing public school education and said that schools need to create more partnership with employers to strengthen training in fields where there is a demand for workers. Dubey became frustrated with Claman’s response.
“This whole concept that he’s putting in, that he’s going to do all this indexing and this and that and put in the public school system — it’s like when the world is talking about some kind of rocket concept, this guy’s talking about Excel. Right? It doesn’t work that way.”
Dubey said that the future of education was on the Internet, and he said that people had to have the desire to get that education. “People who want to learn like me — who want to be engineers — will be engineers. People who want to be something else will be something else. But right now, [Matt Claman’s] policies are keeping education from the poor. Remember that, even though he sounds like he’s pro-education, because he’s a Democrat.”
In his closing remarks, Dubey apologized for what he described as his passion. “The thing is, I’m just an engineer.” He said that the rhetoric he heard from politicians had made him bitter, and that was what inspired him to run for office. But, as was on display the full hour of the AARP debate last weekend, his campaign is guilty of the very rhetoric he would chastise just seconds later. “Look at what a guy like me can bring to the table. Don’t vote for me because I’m a Republican. Don’t vote for me because I’m part of some political mindset. Vote for me because I am truly different.”
In a campaign season where candidates fighting each other in a sandbox would likely not surprise anyone, a different candidate — a fresh option — would indeed be refreshing. Dubey did himself no favors in making a case that he is that candidate.