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Four US House candidates are coming to Bethel to answer questions about rural Alaska

 Emil Notti, Mary Peltola, Sarah Palin and Tara Sweeney will come to Bethel on May 6.
Loren Holmes, Elyssa Loughlin, and Emily Mesner
Anchorage Daily News and KYUK
Emil Notti, Mary Peltola, Sarah Palin and Tara Sweeney will come to Bethel on May 6.

Four candidates in the running for the House special election will meet in Bethel for a candidate forum sponsored by Bethel Native Corporation. The forum is open to the public, and will occur on May 6 in the Bethel Regional High School cafeteria. The purpose of the event is to educate voters about how the special election will work, and to hear from the four candidates on rural issues.

The candidates planning to attend are: Emil Notti, Tara Sweeney, Mary Peltola, and Sarah Palin.

The four candidates approached Alaska Native leaders in Bethel about holding a candidate forum about rural issues in a rural area. That’s according to Ana Hoffman, President and CEO of Bethel Native Corporation and Co-Chair of the Alaska Federation of Natives. She’s organizing and moderating the event.

She plans to ask about five questions, which the candidates will each have two minutes to answer. She said that she will ask questions about topics important to the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.

“The items that we're going to touch on will be about rural economies and industries. We're going to talk about the salmon crisis and the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers. We'll also ask about a national security issues of concern. The other item that we'll talk about is rural health care, education, public safety,” said Hoffman.

There are 48 candidates running for Alaska’s open U.S. House seat. All the candidates coming to Bethel are Alaska Native, except for Palin.

Notti is Athabaskan from Koyukuk. He is perhaps best known for helping to author the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. He was also the first president of the Alaska Federation of Natives. He is a registered Democrat and at 89, he is the oldest candidate running.

Sweeney is the former assistant secretary of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. She’s Iñupiaq and grew up primarily in Utqiagvik, but spent time in her youth in Bethel too. Sweeney is a registered Republican and has been endorsed by the ANCSA Regional Association, a group made up of the presidents and executives of Alaska’s 12 Alaska Native Regional Corporations.

Peltola is a former representative for the Bethel district in the Alaska State Legislature, where she served for 10 years. Peltola is a registered Democrat who grew up in Kwethluk, Tuntutuliak, Platinum, and Bethel. Peltola is the executive director of the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, but on leave during her candidacy.

Palin is a former Republican governor of Alaska. She served for three years and then resigned. She is also a former vice presidential candidate. She ran alongside John McCain during the 2008 presidential election, which they lost to Barack Obama and Joe Biden. Palin lives in Wasilla and was raised in Eagle River. She has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump.

The only Alaska Native candidate not attending the Bethel forum is Laurel Foster, a former National Guardsman and current paralegal. She is the only Alaska Native candidate without political or Tribal leadership experience. Foster is Cup’ik. She was born in Bethel and has ties to Mekoryuk, but has resided in Anchorage since her childhood.

The candidate event will be held in the Bethel Regional High School cafeteria on May 6 from 1:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. The first part of the forum will include information about how to vote in the special election and the primary. The second part will be the discussion between candidates.

Hoffman said that students are welcome to attend. Some of the seniors will be eligible to vote for the first time in the U.S. House special election.

“It's a historic event and we do hope to see students there,” said Hoffman.

Only 18 year olds can vote, but anyone within six months of their 18th birthday can register to vote. Bethel volunteer voting registrar Kathy Hanson will be there to explain how to vote. She’ll also have paper registrations on hand and a link to digital registrations. Voter registrations for the special primary election must be completed by May 12.

The event is open to the public. Hoffman said that it will abide by the Lower Kuskokwim School District’s masking policy, which currently requires wearing a mask. That’s because the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation has identified Bethel as having high rates of COVID-19 transmission.

Bethel Native Corporation does not plan to livestream the event.

Hoffman said that she hopes this forum will inspire the other candidates to come to Bethel during their campaigns.

Copyright 2022 KYUK. To see more, visit KYUK.

Olivia is a News Reporter for KYUK. She previously worked in the film industry in New York City. Her documentary films have screened at festivals worldwide. In 2020 she was an artist-in-residence in Petrozavodsk, Russia. She speaks English, Norwegian, Italian, Spanish, and Russian with decreasing fluency in that order.