PUBLISHED: 3:57 PM on Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Joining together
Gubernatorial candidates address community leaders at last week's Southeast Conference

Photo by Amanda Gragert
  Andrew Halcro talks with Lorene Palmer, left, of Juneau's Visitor's Council.
Talk of the ferry system, logging, mining and the future of Alaska filled the Ted Ferry Center in Ketchikan as community leaders from across the region attended the Southeast Conference last week.

What packed the house was the presentation of gubernatorial candidates Independent Andrew Halcro, Democrat Tony Knowles and Republican Sarah Palin.

Palin was the first to speak and shared her vision for a positive outlook for Alaska.

"I'd be honored if I could spend four years getting to know Southeast Alaska better," she said. "These are exciting times in our state. It can be a new frontier of development. Alaskans are demanding positive change, and I'm not going to let them down."

Halcro followed Palin, and explained why he was running as an Independent. The self-proclaimed life-long Republican said he wanted to see change.

Photo by Amanda Gragert
  Tony Knowles listens to attendants of Southeast Conference.
"I'm tired of the happy talk this state has had on the campaign trail. We've had the same problem for the past four years that we had eight years ago. I've watched the boom and bust that has crippled Southeast communities," Halcro said.

"I believe there's a certain percentage of both sides that want to solve problems."

Knowles finished the presentation, saying he wanted to get Alaska back on track and help those who call Alaska home.

"When I decided to go into public service, I wanted to make a difference," Knowles said.

One topic each candidate touched was the Alaska Marine Highway System.

Halcro, president of Avis Alaska, a statewide family owned and operated rental car business, said the ferry system should be looked at to make it work for the communities that rely on good service.

"I can't live without the Alaska Marine Highway System," Halcro said.

Photo by Amanda Gragert
  Sarah Palin listens to attendants of Southeast Conference.
Palin said the debate of building a road out of Juneau should not overshadow the need for a reliable ferry system although she does support the road project.

"The ferry system is the highway system for the Southeast. We need to make sure that money is spent wisely," Palin said. "We don't need the road to become an either or project. I'll let the public process work."

She said she also supports a bridge to Gravina Island.

"It's not Nowhere, Alaska. It's a gem of the Southeast," she said.

Knowles also commented on the need for improved ferry service.

"We need a change and to keep politics out of operation of the day-to-day system," Knowles said.

A former mayor of Wasilla, Palin said the idea of moving the capitol out of Juneau is a "non issue."

"It's been a non-issue. There are so many issues in the state to be addressed as an united state," Palin said. "It's time for a positive change."

Halcro said experience is key when electing the next governor and his business skills will lead the state.

"I see the torturous economics this state goes through. We don't make our officials accountable," Halcro said. "Our whole future relies on the ability to manage resources. That voice of a new generation has to come with experience. We've never elected a governor with experience. We've elected based on happy sound bites. We need to start running this state on business not personalities.

"I've seen this state grow my entire life. It's frustrating to see a state with so much potential be strangled by politics."

Knowles said he supports projects that will build infrastructure and wants to see the Alaska's education system improved.

"We should have the best schools in America," Knowles said. "We need to fully fund and hold accountable K-12."

He said health care for employees also is a topic that state should tackle.

"We can do things smarter and better because it is morally right," Knowles said. "That's an opportunity we have."