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les gara for governor
Like many Alaskans, Les grew up without wealth or privilege. When he was six, a robber broke into his father’s office. He was working late and the robber killed him. Les grew up in foster homes, where he lived for twelve years until he graduated high school. While Les worked from grade school through law school, he had good public schools and the opportunity to succeed. That’s what everyone deserves: an equal right to opportunity, liberty and justice.
Les has received national awards for his work supporting Alaska’s foster youth (2018 Adoption Excellence Award and 2017 Casey Excellence for Children Award) so they, too, have a much-deserved chance to prosper and succeed.
Opportunity For All
Les and his wife Kelly have had many opportunities in their 33 years in Fairbanks (1988-1989) and Anchorage. Les was fortunate to find good work, including as an Assistant Attorney General on Alaska’s civil prosecution of Exxon after the disastrous Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. Kelly has made her way as a much-loved hospital physical therapist. They came to an Alaska with great opportunity. But today, for many Alaskans, opportunities are disappearing.
Governor Dunleavy has made life in Alaska, and the chance to succeed, harder for people in both large and small communities. He’s violated Alaska law by not distributing millions of dollars owed to local communities, forcing many of them to raise local property taxes to pay for state obligations. His cuts have damaged a university that’s been forced to eliminate vocational education (job training certificates) and higher education courses. His attack on the University of Alaska has taken money out of the economy, money that doesn’t get spent at small businesses. It’s damaged the ability to train Alaska workers needed by Alaska businesses. It’s damaged the opportunity to succeed.
Les has worked and voted to support schools, Alaska’s university system, and job training, and helped strengthen the state’s financial aid plan so more students and employees can get needed scholarships.
Jobs and Opportunity Matter
Alaskans deserve a governor who’ll end Alaska’s recession and work to create good-paying jobs. Governor Dunleavy has killed more than 4,000 jobs just by ducking our fiscal crisis, emptying the state’s savings accounts, and demanding a decimated construction budget.
Today Alaska has an austerity construction budget. That’s eliminated both jobs and our ability to maintain and build ports, roads, renewable energy projects, needed rural police and teacher housing, and more. State support for construction and maintenance has been slashed by roughly 65% from the pre-austerity 2006-2015 average.
That’s caused people to move and take their job skills to other states. It’s taken away careers, harmed businesses, and left less money to circulate through our urban and rural economies. It’s prevented needed energy projects, including those renewable energy projects that would lower the high cost of electricity and heating in Alaska.
A one-time influx of federal money will fix some of this. But past neglect tells us we need a leader who’ll do more than just leave people out of work while waiting for federal help from the President and Congress.
Help Businesses Succeed Less money in Alaska’s economy, fewer workers to spend money at local businesses, and a budget crisis Governor Dunleavy failed to address prevents businesses from locating in Alaska. The governor has stalled needed job growth. He’s harmed families and communities. Today, Alaska has a maintenance and repair backlog of roughly $2 billion in state and University of Alaska buildings and infrastructure. Les and Jessica will work to put people and businesses across the state to work on these projects.
Better Schools & Universal Pre-K: More success, higher graduation rates
As a legislator, Les Gara filed and sponsored legislation to lower class sizes. Students deserve individual attention to help them succeed, not overcrowded classrooms. To end the annual fight over education, Les has always proposed keeping school funding consistent with the cost of inflation. Students deserve good teachers, not battles over how many teachers they’ll lose the next year.
Gara’s main opponents in this race have records cutting public education funds. In 2018 Dunleavy proposed the biggest education cuts in state history – over a quarter billion dollars. His budget attempt would have eliminated over 2,600 teacher and educator jobs, and devastated both student opportunity and the economy. In 2015 & 2016 former Governor Walker cut education funding by over $80 million, and vetoed University funding. Those were cuts Les opposed and tried to stop.
The candidates differences on public education surfaced again in 2015. Les Gara voted against a bill ending state support for to help pay bonds for school construction and maintenance. His two main opponents supported that bill (Dunleavy as a State Senator and Walker as Governor), Senate Bill 64. Les correctly warned that bill would kill labor and professional jobs, harm students, and increase these costs when the same maintenance and construction work was eventually done later, and those schools needed greater repair.
After years of increasing class sizes, Alaskans are losing faith in the state’s commitment to public education. As governor, Les will work to improve our schools, reduce class sizes, and increase student opportunity and success.
And, like other important public employees, teachers, police, and firefighters deserve a return to the right to a pension. Since a radical change to the law in 2005, which Les voted against, new employees no longer have any pension benefits (SB 141). With stagnant pay, Alaska has lost a needed incentive that would help us attract and retain our best professionals.
Les Gara is the also only candidate who has sponsored legislation to return Alaska to a fair, needed , affordable pension system (e.g., HB 54, 2009). Lagging education support has increased class sizes, made it harder to attract and retain the best teachers, and the lack of a basic pension – which teachers can find elsewhere across the country – has made that problem worse.
Governor Dunleavy pushed over a quarter billion dollars in education cuts once he took office – the biggest proposed Governor’s cut in Alaska history. His proposal would have have fired 2,600 teachers and educators, at the expense of student opportunity and achievement.
In 2015, then-Governor Walker, joined by the Republican legislative majority, eliminated $32 million in promised education funds for the 2015-2016 school year. That education funding had been promised and passed in 2014, as part of a very modest three-year education funding plan, House Bill 278. Faced with the proposal to block these promised, passed education funds, Gara pushed and voted for an amendment to restore the promised statutory $32 million in education funds, to keep class sizes from growing further. His Amendment to the budget would have saved the state $170 million, and reduced $700 million in excessive oil company cash credits ($600 million more than state law required) in the budget, by $200 million. (See Finance Committee Gara Amendment #11 to HB 2001, pp. 24-25. Amendment failed, Gara, Kawasaki, Guttenberg voted YES).
In addition, then-Gov. Walker vetoed roughly $55 million more in public education funds in 2016.
Les and Jessica believe smaller class sizes increase academic achievement, and that continually-increasing class sizes steals opportunity from students.
An example of Les’ commitment to early childhood education is the state’s Pre-K program, which helps working parents of young children. Studies show that viable pre-kindergarten programs increase student achievement and graduation rates. It also leads to lower unemployment, higher wages, and fewer people on expensive public benefits and in jail. Simply put, Pre-K saves money and increases opportunity.
Les has supported statewide voluntary Pre-K my whole legislative career, and fought opponents of Pre-K to successfully expand what Alaska offers. As governor, Les will work to ensure Alaska finally joins the roughly 40 states that offer statewide Pre-K to parents who believe that’s what’s best for their children.
Pre-K programs in Alaska are possible, both in and outside a traditional classroom setting, through the Parents As Teachers Pre-K program. Les helped started the push for Alaska-supported Parents As Teachers Pre-K, and helped launch its success with Rep. Chris Tuck.
Les Gara and Jessica Cook believe Alaska’s leadership should act to improve student success so that all children enter school ready to read and ready to learn.
Families are leaving Alaska, in part because they see no commitment to public education. Les Gara and Jessica will help make Alaska a place in which people want to live, not leave.
Protect Fish Runs, Not Wealthy Pebble Mine Executives
Les Gara promises as governor to drop the current Governor Mike Dunleavy’s lawsuit filed on behalf of the Canadian Pebble Mine owners. As an avid fisherman who’s travelled throughout Rural and Urban Alaska, from the North Slope to Southeast Alaska, Les knows Alaska needs to protect its commercial, sport and subsistence fishing and hunting, as well as access to those resources.
Fishing binds together Alaskans of all backgrounds. Governor Dunleavy has chosen to side with the Pebble Mine owners, a threat to Bristol Bay’s pristine wild salmon and trout waters.
Les Gara voted to support other mineral mines operating across Alaska; but Pebble Mine is the wrong mine in the wrong place.
And in the face of 2021 chum and silver crashes in many rural communities, Les and Jessica will ensure Alaska has the research to take action as quickly and responsibly as possible.
Strong research matters, and listening to people matters, especially in communities that rely on runs that have crashed. We deserve much better research on Outside factory trawler bycatch impacts on our fisheries. We deserve better than an ADF&G Commissioner who says, still in 2021, that he hasn’t “given … a great deal of thought” to whether dragging the ocean floor harms our fish and crab habitat, and that he’s relying heavily on entities other than the state to fund needed studies we still don’t have on chum and other fish populations that have crashed. While we’ve raised the issue of bottom trawler bycatch throughout this campaign, in published Op Ed’s across the state, and at a November Governor’s Forum, only after all that did the Governor, after 3 years in Office, finally propose to “look” at the with a “task force” on Nov. 18. 2021.
It was wrong to see an emergency on the Yukon and Kuskokwim and other rivers, and take a seat behind businesses that are fortunately donating fish. And then put false labels on the fish boxes saying they were donated by the state. That’s campaign work, not leadership. The state’s original offer of help on this effort was a paltry $75,000, or half the salary of just one of the Governor’s political appointees.
Support Alaska’s Tourism Economy
In 2021, Governor Dunleavy, at a time businesses could afford it least, defunded needed tourism marketing dollars. Les Gara co-sponsored legislation to help Alaska’s tourism and hospitality businesses create a vibrant tourism ad campaign. Visitors to Alaska bring $2.2 billion to the state each year, and create both seasonal and permanent jobs for residents. Les and Jessica support the development and maintenance of a vibrant, sustainable tourism and hospitality industry.
A Woman’s Right To Choose: Government Should Never Interfere With A Woman’s Private Health Decisions
Les is pro-choice, and is also the only pro-choice candidate for governor. He and Jessica are the only pro-choice ticket. Now that radical Justices on the United States Supreme Court have taken away 50 years of pro-choice and reproductive health rights, states like Alaska will be the last line of defense. Les and Jessica will defend that line for you.
It’s why Les and Jessica have received the pro-choice endorsements in this race, including from Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates (PP’s endorsing arm), which noted all the other Governor’s candidate’s poor, and in most cases extremist records on choice.
We need to prevent what happened at the U.S Supreme Court. Anti-choice federal judicial appointments have created a U.S. Supreme Court majority that says the federal constitutional right to “privacy” no longer protects the right to choose. We don’t want Alaska Justices who’ll re-interpret Alaska’s right to privacy like the U.S. Supreme Court just did.
As a legislator, Les Gara has always supported the right to choose, and always will. Gara’s main opponents have used their attorneys general, during their respective terms as governor, to sue to roll back a woman’s right to make her own healthcare decisions.
We need a Governor who won’t appoint Alaska judges who’ll take away these rights as just happened on the federal level. At least two of the five Alaska Supreme Court Justices will retire in the next four years, and be replaced.
With the wrong governor, future court appointments can overturn Alaska’s court precedent, which interprets our right to “privacy” as a protection of the right to choose. Les is the only candidate who’s said he’ll ask future judicial nominees if they will honor Alaska’s pro-choice case precedent. That’s crucial now that these rights are no longer protected at the federal level.
Les will not allow the Legislature or our Attorney General to roll back these rights, in contrast to his opponents.
Governor Dunleavy has sued to uphold a Texas law nearly banning all abortions. Governor Walker, who like Dunleavy defines himself as “pro-life”, sued to roll back Medicaid coverage of abortions for low income women. While he promised he’d discard his personal values against abortion in 2014, and veto anti-choice legislation, he later conceded he couldn’t honor that promise and retracted it based on his personal pro-life beliefs. If you believe in the right to choose, you don’t need to roll the dice with a governors candidate who doesn’t share that belief.
Additionally, Les Gara disagreed with both of his main opponents when they passed extreme legislation allowing politicians to interfere with the ability of schools to teach safe sex education. He sided with women’s rights and pro-choice groups. That 2016 law, HB 156, was written by Governor Mike Dunleavy, and enacted without a veto by then-Governor Walker. Les voted and fought against HB 156. Allowing politicians to interfere with curriculum on avoiding unwanted pregnancies is wrong, and harms young women and girls.
It is past time for insurance companies to provide long-term birth control prescriptions so women don’t have to keep going back to their pharmacist every few months to obtain the birth control they choose and need. Women deserve the right to year-long prescriptions for birth control so they don’t have to spend time working through prescription renewals which, in this time of staff shortages, is often unjustifiably time-consuming.
Les and Jessica will protect a woman’s right to safe birth control and contraception, no matter what extremist politicians and U.S. Supreme Court Justices do.
Ducking and Spending Alaska’s Savings Hasn’t Solved The Budget Deficit Mike Dunleavy irresponsibly spent Alaska’s savings for nearly a decade, both as state senator and then as governor. As a result, $17 billion in state savings have been lost. Dunleavy said in his 2021 budget plan that he’ll impose “$1.233 billion” in taxes next year, hidden what those taxes will be, and changed his position on multiple occasions (December 11, 2020 Gov. Dunleavy “Budget Overview and 10-Year Plan“). Six months later he shifted to the biggest raid in Permanent Fund history, and tried to take $3 billion more from the fund than the law allows. He promised he’d only do that “one time” . . . for now.
Les Gara and Jessica Cook will not ignore Alaska’s budget crisis.
A Living Minimum Wage For Alaska Workers, Dignity For Alaska Elders
Les Gara and Jessica Cook believe in a living wage for Alaskans who work hard to pay rent and raise their children. Les co-sponsored legislation to require a $15/hour minimum wage as a legislator, and will work for a living wage of at least $15/hour as Governor. We can phase in a living wage while businesses recover from the pandemic. Workers deserve better than a a poverty wage of $10.34 an hour.
Gara has stood up for Alaska’s seniors, many of whom contributed their whole lives to this state. He represented Pioneer Home residents and stood with them, and helped start Alaska’s monthly Senior Benefits payments that seniors on a budget need for rent and food. Gara voted against ending the senior Longevity Bonus when it was eliminated under Governor Murkowski.
This Governor didn’t honor our elders. In his first year he eliminated Senior Benefits payments. He increased Pioneer Home rates by a staggering 40% for a room and food, any by 140% for seniors battling health problems. To try to avoid a Recall launched in July 2019, he was forced to reverse his Senior Benefits veto that August. And the Legislature reversed his Pioneer Home rate hike.
We deserve a Governor who understands that workers and elders deserve better than struggle and hardship.
Giving Away Billions of Dollars in Oil Company Corporate Welfare Is Wrong
Giving away money that belongs to Alaskans, for Alaska’s oil, is welfare for the wealthy, and it’s wrong.
A critical element of any sustainable fiscal plan should be an end to unnecessary oil company tax credits, which corporations get even if they reduce their investments here and spend their billions in annual Alaska oil profits outside Alaska.
Whether it’s good schools, a funded PFD, construction jobs, or a university system that creates jobs, these things are in jeopardy as long as the money Alaskans need to pay for them is given away to multinational corporations. Giving to the wealthiest at the expense of seniors, children, and the economy is not leadership.
Les Has Acted On Climate Change
In 2010, Les Gara wrote and passed amendments (with Haines Republican Bill Thomas as co-sponsor) to save money and battle climate change. Today, all state, university and school buildings must be built to cost-effective energy efficiency standards. That saves money, and reduces the emission of greenhouse gases.
Les and Jessica will continue to advocate for legislation that recognizes the ongoing climate crisis and acts to reduce the effects of climate change in Alaska.
Les Gara Will Bridge the Rural/Urban Divide
The late Representative Mike Kelly once called Les Gara the “rural representative from Anchorage.” Les will never pit community against community, or urban residents against rural residents. Alaskans should prosper together.
As a legislator Les represented the entire state, siding with efforts to bring 21st century sanitation and water treatment to rural Alaska, and worked hard to expand police coverage in nearly 100 communities that currently have none.
Les Gara and Jessica Cook support the Alaska Marine Highway System, and its vital role for bridging people and businesses in the state’s coastal areas.
Additionally, Les Gara never once threatened rural Power Cost Equalization payments, unlike Governor Dunleavy, who tried to spend the $1 billion PCE fund in 2019, and again in 2021 with executive action Alaska’s courts ultimately ruled was illegal.
Rural Jobs, Education and Public Safety
Alaska must do more to provide law enforcement in small communities, where victims sometimes wait days for physical protection from an assailant. Educators, first responders, law enforcement, utility workers, and other professionals in contact with the public are needed in their respective regions and should be provided training. Collaborative effort builds stronger communities.
The solution to our budget crisis and recession isn’t taking from one part of the state to benefit another. It’s working together so all Alaskans can live with dignity and respect.
Equal Rights For All Alaskans
All Alaskans deserve equal rights. Les Gara and Jessica Cook are proud to stand with Alaskans to end discrimination in housing and employment, believing all have the right to live as equal citizens.
Gara and Cook’s opponents still prescribe to the outdated view that marriage should only be between a man and a woman. While Les respects former Governor Walker, he disagrees with his unsupportive views on equal rights, and strongly objected when he allowed the then-attorney general to sue against the right of same-sex couples to get married in Alaska.
Les Gara and Jessica Cook will demand equality regardless of race, color or religion, and regardless of who one loves. Les has sponsored legislation supporting equal LGBTQ rights, and will always stand with Alaskans for equal treatment under the law. “Liberty and justice for all” isn’t merely a phrase to recite. It’s a call to action.
A Strong PFD to Bank On – Not False, Unfunded Permanent Fund Dividend Promises
This governor has changed his promises from a “statutory PFD” promised during the campaign down to a 50%, non-statutory PFD plan, which paid $1,500 less in 2021 than the “statutory PFD” he promised Alaskans.
Les Gara tried to override Governor Walker’s PFD veto in 2016. As a state senator, Governor Dunleavy voted to support that veto. When asked to vote for a the Joint House and Senate session the Alaska Constitution requires to override a veto, he voted “No” along party lines, blocked the override vote, and left the PFD veto in place.
Les pushed for and filed legislation to pay for a larger PFD, and in 2018 filed House Bill 381, which would have returned to a statutory PFD payment formula with the revenue the state would receive if the oil tax giveaway Governor Dunleavy voted for as a Senator in 2013 (and Les voted to stop), was ended.
Additionally, Les Gara will end roughly $1 billion in unjustifiable oil company tax subsidies, or “tax credits.” Without that fair oil revenue, Governor Dunleavy has pitted Alaskans who support schools, renewable energy, a PFD, construction jobs, and senior and children’s support against each other to fight over the crumbs.
For more than three years, Governor Dunleavy has played shell games with the PFD, promising a $6,000 PFD, then the “statutory PFD formula” (roughly $3,850 in 2021), and now something less.
Republican legislators in Dunleavy’s own party have asked him for a rational plan to pay for a PFD, and he’s refused. His refusal to propose the “funding” part of the PFD is why it fell to $980 last year, or $5,000 less than he originally promised.
His only “plan” has been to slap together a last-minute, dangerous $3 billion raid on the Permanent Fund – the biggest in Alaska history. He promises he’d only raid the Permanent Fund “one time” to pay for Government so there’s money left over for a PFD, and then offers no way to pay for future PFDs.
Les Gara and Jessica Cook believe it is wrong to give away Alaska’s oil wealth to large corporations.
The Governor Should Lead To End COVID In Alaska, Not Disappear.
People deserve help getting their lives back to normal. Businesses need help so they can thrive again. Les is a proud husband of Kelly, a frontline hospital employee who treats too many COVID patients. Unlike Alaska’s current governor, Les and Jessica believe in accurate, timely COVID-19 information and education to protect people, and to help us protect others.
Les believes a Governor should do the hard work to get people true, accurate information about what medical experts say will prevent infections and keep people safe.
Les called on the Governor to help prevent sickness and death when the Governor went silent on COVID in From November 2021 – January 2022 (and after). That’s when the largest wave of COVID yet hit this state. This Governor sadly disappeared on the pandemic, and never said a word to help people. He never said a word about what masks are best at preventing the spread of this highly infections strain of COVID, and how vaccination can protect people as our hospitals expectedly filled.
He was silent when we knew a wave of COVID was coming, as the wave hit Alaska, and as it peaked with more infections, hospitalization and death.
Throughout this pandemic this Governor has chosen politics over action, and tried to appeal to those who oppose these effective measures by being intentionally equivocal. He’s put votes ahead of public safety. He’s refused even to be a role model, and not worn a mask himself at crowded indoor political functions. Following one of those functions he got COVID himself. A responsible Governor would have admitted their mistake, and used it as a teaching moment. The Governor chose to avoid the press instead of explaining how wearing a mask would have helped protect him and people exposed to him.
During the “Delta” COVID spike in death and hospitalization in 2021 the Governor chose to side with a small segment of his supporters opposed to an immediate, life-saving limited Health Care Facility Emergency Declaration. He chose votes over acting quickly to help gravely ill patients, some facing possible death. He refused to act on policies to reduce overcrowding and state bureaucracy – policies that hospitals in crisis were pleading for. He could have done most or possibly everything they asked for, immediately, with the stroke of a pen in July, but refused to.
Rather than doing the needed work to protect Alaskans, the Governor spent most of 2021 sending out videos from his office once every few months, ambivalently saying people should choose whether or not to be vaccinated. In August he stoked opposition to safe vaccines, making heated, false Nazi Germany and “forced vaccination” comparisons to voluntary, safe vaccinations. Using heated rhetoric to appease voters who haven’t yet chosen a safe vaccination isn’t leadership. Those charged words followed a simple press question about why he wouldn’t just strongly and clearly urge people to get a safe vaccination to protect themselves, and help slow a raging pandemic.
A responsible Governor would have spent 2021-22 travelling the state, bringing experts and other trusted leaders to local communities to speak about how to end this pandemic. Carefully and safely travelling with different experts of all political and ethnic backgrounds, who’d resonate in particular communities, would stop more hospitalizations and infections than a few videos sent from the comfort of the Governor’s Office.
A successful battle to get life and business back to normal requires work, not politics.
About Jessica Cook
Jessica is running because she believes in an Alaska where all students receive a quality education. An Alaska where graduates of our public schools are prepared for postsecondary or vocation-technology education and have the opportunity to use the skills and knowledge in a workforce that shows respect in the form of a living wage. An Alaska looking ahead with hope toward the future, rather than continuing business as usual, while expecting better results.
A lifelong Alaskan, Jessica was born at Elmendorf Air Force Base (now part of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson). After her mother was killed when she was 3, Jessica was adopted into a tight-knit family in Eagle River. In fact, 5 generations of her family continue to live around our great state! Jessica learned about service to others watching her family serve Alaska in military service, both active duty and Air National Guard, law enforcement, volunteer fire service, and, of course, education. Growing up with influences from military and public service taught Jessica the importance of service to others in addition to the value of integrity and a strong work ethic.
Though she faced adversity early in life, having lost her mother when she was three years old, she was fortunate to have learned from educators that instilled a love of learning in her. Jessica is a proud product of Alaska’s K-12 public schools. Being a lifelong learner, Jessica went to the University of Alaska at Fairbanks to pursue a degree in education. She has been teaching in the Anchorage School District for more than two decades, during which time she earned two master’s degrees in education.
Jessica continues to have a vested interest in Alaska’s future. She and her husband, Ed, a veteran of the US Air Force, are parents to three daughters and grandparents to five grandchildren, all of whom currently live in Alaska. Jobs providing a living wage, quality education, and public safety are all building blocks of a bright future for our state.
With years of advocacy experience and working with legislators, Jessica is not a status quo politician. She believes it is time to change the status quo. It is time to build a better, brighter future for Alaska and her people. It is time to vote, not for party, but for commitment, integrity, and a new tomorrow.