Ten candidates running for borough or city offices in Fairbanks this October participated in a recent online forum where they shared views on LGBTQ issues, community-run police oversight boards and climate change, among other issues.
Hosted by the UAF Nanook Diversity & Action Center, the Aug. 31 forum focused almost exclusively on controversial social justice issues. With few notable exceptions, candidates expressed enthusiastic support for much of the far-left agenda.
Chris Ludtke, who is running for Fairbanks Borough Mayor, was the only candidate who consistently articulated a conservative perspective that opposed expanding governmental powers or imposing COVID mandates and shutdowns.
Other candidates who participated in the forum included:
- June Rogers (running to retain City Council Seat B)
- Jerry Cleworth (running for City Council Seat A)
- Shoshana Kun (running to retain City Council Seat A)
- Robert Shields (running for Borough Mayor)
- Savannah Fletcher (running for Borough Assembly Seat G)
- David Guttenberg (running for Borough Assembly Seat A)
- Kristan Kelly (running for Borough Assembly Seat G)
- Chrya Sanderson (running to retain School Seat B)
- Erin Morotti (running for School Board Seat A)
The event began with a rapid-fire litany of “yes or no” answers to hot-button questions.
All participating candidates, except Ludke agreed that local government should use its influence to reduce the impact of climate change.
With regard to imposing mask mandates to slow the spread of COVID, most candidates, excluding Ludtke, supported this. Kelly, Cleworth and Kun did not appear to answer the question.
All candidates, except Ludke, support having social workers and mental health providers take over some of the duties now associated with local policing.
When asked if they would use their office to help transform Fairbanks’ economy to make it more equitable and ecologically responsive, all candidates except Ludtke and Cleworth agreed to work toward this goal. Likewise, only Ludtke and Cleworth were against starting every public meeting by acknowledging that the land on which the meeting takes place belongs to the original indigenous peoples.
On the issue of whether medical providers have the right to refuse to offer certain services which they object to, only Ludtke, Shields and Sanderson said they supported this right. The issue has gained national attention with respect to medical providers who object to doing abortions or offering gender transition therapies and drugs.
On the transgender front, candidates were asked if they would actively oppose policies that require people to use the bathroom that matches their biological sex. Everyone but Ludtke and Cleworth said they would fight against this.
All candidates, except Ludtke, indicated that they would support measures to have social workers and mental health providers take over some of the duties now associated with local policing. Likewise, everyone, except Ludtke, supported special legal protections for LGBTQ+ coworkers and constituents.
Borough candidates were asked if they supported curbing greenhouse emissions.
On the question of backing borough climate change initiatives, only Ludtke opposed this. Cleworth did not appear to respond.
Everyone agreed it was a good idea to have a community review board help oversee police misconduct and lethal use of force. Additionally, everyone, excluding Ludtke, said they would use their office to actively address racial inequities in the community.
Following the rapid-fire questions, each candidate had three minutes to answer more in-depth questions.
Borough candidates were asked if they supported curbing greenhouse emissions.
Fletcher said all areas of borough government should be harnessed to address climate change. She supports tax credits for energy efficient homes and wants to see more solar and wind-energy-powered buildings. She also advocates for denser housing units and agricultural tax credits.
Kelly said she supported the borough’s continued buy-out of wood burning stoves and backs more public transportation to reduce carbon emissions.
Guttenberg backs the ideas of electric charging stations for cars.
On the school board front, Morotti whole heartedly supported teaching equity, diversity and inclusion to students, while Sanderson said she’d like to see the school district hire more minority teachers and staff.
City Council candidates were asked whether they would back a police review board to help oversee law enforcement.
The borough mayoral candidates were then asked if they would prioritize “equity” and climate change through infrastructure projects.
Ludtke said he didn’t think that was government’s job to ensure equity of outcomes, but rather equal opportunity for all. He said he supports a “level playing field.”
Shields, however, maintained that he would focus on the ideas of equity, resilience and climate action to integrate “nature as a profitable business partner,” although he did not elaborate.
City Council candidates were then asked whether they would back a police review board to help oversee law enforcement.
Kun said she “whole heartedly supports this idea,” and maintained that there is significant and systemic distrust between Alaska Natives and the police, which must be addressed.
Cleworth said the current Citizens Review Commission is the best way for the community to express their concerns, and Rogers said she supports greater equity training for police officers.
school board candidates were asked if they would support LGBTQ+ sex education throughout the schools.
All participating Borough Assembly candidates supported greater broadband efforts in the Fairbanks area as a way to address equity concerns. This was a particular passion for Guttenberg.
Kelly added that she would address equity by building additional trails and encouraging depressed youth to exercise more.
Fletcher came back to one of her pillars which is denser housing and better water for area residents. She also supports continued free public transportation.
One of the most controversial questions was saved for the two school board candidates who were asked if they would support LGBTQ sex education throughout the schools.
Sanderson walked a fine line, saying she didn’t want to overstep parental authority, but still wanted to find ways to support and affirm LGBTQ students. She suggested that administrators and counselors should advocate for these students and take a look at altering the health curriculum. She then shared a story about how she was able to support a student who was undergoing a gender “transition,” while still staying within what she believed were her proper boundaries.
Morotti was far more zealous about LGBTQ sex education.
“As a proud member of the LGBTQ community, I absolutely support age-appropriate LGBTQ inclusive education,” she said, adding that she talks about it regularly in her work on the school district’s Diversity Committee.
“It starts with our littlest ones – age appropriately – and then they grow in knowledge,” she said with respect to teaching LGBTQ topics – including anatomy, lifestyle and sexual identity.
Morotti added that she believes the school district has a duty to push the larger Fairbanks community towards being more “progressive.”
“We have to make great change in our community,” she said. “It includes focus on progressive work in our community.”
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The borough mayoral candidates were then asked to share what policies they would propose to mitigate the spread of COVID.
Both Shields and Ludtke said they oppose using mandates. Ludtke was more forceful on this matter, arguing it was not the borough’s place oversee and monitor everyone.
“Individuals make the best decisions for themselves,” he said, adding that he would encourage health care workers to get vaccinated, but opposes efforts to shut down businesses with COVID mandates.
Throughout the forum, most of Ludtke’s views were in stark contrast to the other candidates. He acknowledged this briefly, noting that he opposes more government, top-down measures and instead wants to empower businesses, homeowners and private citizens to think for themselves. He also said the other candidates’ plans to grow government programs will only extract money from the private sector.
The candidates listed below did not participate in the Aug. 31 forum.
- Bryce Ward (running for Borough Mayor)
- Andrew Graham (running for School Board Seat A)
- Sally Grant (running for School Board Seat A)
- Kevin McKinley (running for Borough Assembly Seat A)
- Jeffrey Rentzel (running for School Board Seat B)
- Patricia Silva (running for Borough Assembly Seat F)
- Lance Roberts (running for Borough Assembly Seat G)
- Jonathan Bagwill (running for City Council Seat B)