Friday, March 13, 2015

Demboski Would Support Tribes, Veto Gay Rights, Darden Wired To God

A fairly new community group - We Are Anchorage - organized, as I understand it, by Ma'o Tosi, held a mayoral forum at UAA's Wendy Williamson Auditorium Thursday night.  It was one of the more interesting political forums I've gone to.  Except for some technical glitches at the beginning with the sound, it went very smoothly.

[We Are Anchorage said they'd have the transcripts up Friday (today) on their website.  As someone who has done transcripts for this blog, I think that Friday is probably optimistic.  But when they're up, I'll check to make sure I'm accurate in what I say below.]

The focus was on violence in Anchorage and how the candidates would address it.

The basic answer from everyone was:  More Police.  Dan Coffey always mentioned that, of course, it's dependent on funding.  Lance Ahern said there was lots of money that could be found in the Muni budget.  Someone else (I think it was Halcro) said that since there was no snow plowing this year, there's plenty of money in that budget.  Demboski bet everyone a piece of pizza that the Muni will have a surplus this year. (If I thought I would lose a bet, I might bet the whole audience a piece of pizza, but I don't know what I'd do with all that pizza if I won.)

There was a set of questions that had been given to all the candidates in advance - Dan Coffey had typed up answers that he left for people in the lobby.  But he only made 40 copies and I guestimate there were about 140 in the audience.  The questions were fairly detailed about strategies to fight violence in general, about violence against Alaska Native women, about the green dot program, the link between staffing levels and crime, etc. Questions were drawn randomly.  Most of the questions were drawn and asked of three or four different candidates.  A few questions were gathered from the audience as they entered the auditorium.  At the end, audience members asked questions.   Some of the candidates were well prepared with specifics and others spoke more in generalities.  Given they had the questions in advance, the latter group just didn't do their homework.

There was a lot of basic agreement on things like the need for more police.  Much of the difference was in style and emphasis.  So I'd like to focus on what stood out for me. 

Notable remarks

Amy Demboski.  Of the candidates that the media seems to peg as the contenders, Demboski was the one who stood out as the most different from the pack.  (It would have been nice to have seen more women on the stage.)

Tribes. The talk about tribes, especially coming from the candidate who bills herself as "the conservative choice" (March 9 video) was a surprise.  Conservatives have been vigorously fighting the concept of tribes in Alaska.   In answer to a question about domestic violence, Alaska Native women, and involving Alaska Natives in solutions, Demboski said she loved this questions, that she was already talking to Tribal Elders, that we should engage tribes because they have access to federal funding and medical care. We can't talk just about individuals, why not talk about tribes?   It wasn't clear.  Is she recognizing the importance of tribes to Alaskan Natives?  Or is it a way to tap into federal funds?  I'm not sure.  It was unexpected.
Liz Medicine Crow, Moderator

Personal Responsibility.  While she talked about dealing with tribes over individuals, she also seemed divided between "people have to take responsibility for themselves" when discussing homeless people and also acknowledging we have a responsibility to help.  I suspect 'individual responsibility' is one of her core values.  It's one that psychologist Jonathan Haidt says is important to conservatives.  (It's in the link - go down to where it says,  "In the Social Science Space interview.")  They don't want to coddle leeches and mooches.  I suspect that Demboski is trying to make a distinction between those who are just being irresponsible and those who are truly needy through no fault of their own.  What she doesn't seem to see is how the system works for some people and doesn't work for others.  There's a combination of genetic predispositions and family and social nurturing that prepare people to cope or to fail.  While I would agree that some people seem to repeatedly make stupid decisions, I tend to believe that if we were omniscient, we would understand that these were not so much irresponsible decisions (which they are on one level) but also decisions programmed by social, political, and economic systems.  It would be interesting to hear Demboski's explanation of how to determine who are just irresponsible and who are deserving of help.

Diversity.   The question was about how to make the Anchorage Police Department look like the diverse population of Anchorage.  Other candidates talked about recruiting candidates from the different ethnic groups of Anchorage.  Demboski said, that diversity, to her, doesn't mean race or religion or economic status.  The police department is already diverse, they're her neighbors (she lives in Chugiak.)  That sounds like someone who says I don't see race, I'm colorblind.  The mixed audience wasn't buying it.  (I'd note, of course, that we're really talking about skin color.  Race used to refer to Italians, Irish, Jews, etc.)

Discrimination Against Gays.  When asked by an audience member about reports that she would veto a gay rights ordinance if mayor, Demboski first pointed out that her campaign didn't put out that ad.  But she did, then, say she would veto such an ordinance.  She wasn't discriminating against gays, she suggested, but rather preventing religious discrimination.  People only had a minute (and later only 30 seconds to answer.)  My interpretation of that is that she's identifying with people whose religions say that homosexuality is sinful and who would not want, as a merchant, to have to do things that advanced the idea that homosexuality was okay.  I understand a person who embraces the bible literally including those sections fundamentalists point to as proof that homosexuality is a sin, feeling conflicted when they are asked to photograph or cater a gay wedding.  I understand their claims that they feel it would endorse something they disagree with.  And I certainly wouldn't want someone who thought I was an abomination to take the pictures or make the food for my wedding.  But if you live in a small community where there is only one photography store or one good caterer or bakery, being denied service because of how you were born (and I know others will say it's a choice) is against the basic principles of equal rights that we celebrate with "All men are created equal."  (And, of course, there is irony in that time has made the word 'men' there anachronistic.)  And when it comes to landlords or employers having the right to discriminate against gays - even when their presence is not about advancing homosexuality - is even worse.
Dustin Darden added the concern about pastors having their freedom of speech abridged if they spoke out against gays.  I don't know of any gay rights ordinance that says people in non-public settings can't offer the opinion that homosexuality is wrong. 
I can understand that reasoning, but I can't agree with it.  Religion has been used to justify drowning so called witches, and slavery as well.  I had a number of issues with Demboski as a potential mayor, and this issue is reason enough for me to consider Demboski unacceptable as a mayor.
What wasn't addressed in this discussion was the relationship between religious condemnation of gays and the disproportionate amount of violence gays are subjected to and how violence against
Don Megga and Timer
gays would be dealt with. 

Phil Stoddard.  Phil's solution to everything was the mantra: "Education is the key and jobs are the answer."  He promised to dramatically increase manufacturing in Anchorage by making this lowest priced electrical grid in the US.  Every time he had a question, he got his mantra into the answer. 

Dustin Darden paused before each answer, eyes looking up as though he were waiting to channel God, and he did say several times that God was the answer.  His most passionate moment was when he vowed to shut down Planned Parenthood.  He didn't actually name them, but he did talk about ending abortion and identified their corner on Lake Otis Parkway.

At the end of the randomly selected question, each candidate was asked what their most important tool for ending violence was.

  • Darden:  Pray
  • Stoddard:  Jobs
  • Berkowitz:  Fundamentals and basics - prevention, policing, prosecution - alone won't eliminate violence.  We all have to do it together - We Are Anchorage.
  • Huit:   Spiritual solutions - "though not to where Dustin [Darden] is" - we have leadership problems
  • Ahern:  Use new technologies - smart phones - 911 doesn't take advantage of people's ability to text and send photos of the person bothering them.
  • Coffey:  Agrees with Ethan on fundamentals, but then need someone who can do it effectively and then he suggested he could.
  • Bauer:  Incorporate what everyone else said plus the inability of people to deal with others in a civil manner - thus education
  • Halcro:  Become Anchorage again, come together as a community
  • Demboski:  Wish I had a simple answer.  Communication - start with people talking to each other.

I walked away thinking there were four candidates who spoke knowledgeably about the issues and with recognition that there were other valid points of view besides their own - Dan Coffey, Ethan Berkowitz, Andrew Halcro, and Lance Ahern.  Ahern is the least well known of the four and his knowledge of Anchorage comes from a shorter span of experience.  He's head of IT at the Municipality now and has law enforcement experience.  In his area he seems well informed and is well spoken.  (I'm sure there are people at the Muni who dispute this and I don't know for sure.  He seemed genuinely open and I'm inclined to believe him, but always "trust, but verify."

One unexpected issue raised by the audience was the future of Uber in Anchorage.  Halcro was quick to say that he would be pushing for innovative firms like Uber much more than the man - Dan Coffey - who had been the attorney for the taxi industry.  Coffey responded that he was open to Uber, but was concerned with guaranteeing public safety.  Halcro also countered Demboski's promise to veto a gay rights ordinance by touting his own bringing the head of the national gay Chamber of Commerce to speak to the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, the first 'regular' chamber to invite the head of the gay Chamber of Commerce to speak to them.  Berkowitz gave several spirited responses - in one case, after Paul Bauer talked about reawakening a moribund task force to study homelessness, Berkowitz held up a study on policing in Anchorage and said, there have been enough studies, it's time to implement them.  If I were to go by audience applause, Berkowitz probably was the winner, though Halcro got his share of applause too.  (There actually wasn't that much applause, though Darden's brother applauded loudly each time Dustin spoke.)

There was a positive vibe in the room.  Candidates treated each other, for the most part, with respect and the audience listened carefully.  The whole event was well organized and I got a good sense of the candidates. The APOC lists several other mayoral candidates who weren't there:
  • Samuel Joseph Speziale III
  • Yeilyadi Olson
  • Jacob Kern
  • Christopher Steven Jamison
  • Jonathan Harrison  (is listed for both mayor and school board)

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