Some 30 protestors met Leslie Becker, the Republican nominee for House District 36, at a fiery meet-and-greet on Saturday in Metlakatla. It was perhaps the first time the conservative Republican publicly confronted critics who said her online writings contained offensive stereotypes of Alaska Native communities.
The Metlakatla Veterans Association hosted Becker at the community’s longhouse. She started with a stump speech laying out her conservative platform, including her position on Permanent Fund dividends.
“We have laws on the books, and how does our legislature represent you with the laws that are on the books? Our legislature is not applying the law for the Permanent Fund. We need to fight for the justice to protect the Permanent Fund dividend,” she said.
Becker advocated for cuts to state spending — though she offered no specifics when asked — and said another tenet of her campaign was to “protect life from conception until natural death.”
She also said she supported resource development, including mining. But she insisted she has no position on the controversial Pebble Mine near Bristol Bay.
After opening the floor to questions, several members of the crowd asked about statements Becker made in a now-deleted religious blog post that was condemned by Alaska Native leaders — including a former president of Ketchikan Indian Community and the Ketchikan Tlingit and Haida Community Council — as offensive stereotypes of Alaska Native communities.
In the post, Becker wrote that “new jobs will come to [Alaska Native] communities and hearts will be lifted from alcoholism, drugs and despair.”
That essay and others were part of a weekly “prayer call” that Becker said she continues to hold on Monday mornings.
But the elected Ketchikan school board member, who relocated to Ketchikan four years ago from Orange County in Southern California, refused to walk back the statements. Instead, she read much of the prayer aloud inside the Metlakatla Longhouse during her Saturday visit.
“There is nothing untrue in the state of Alaska about this,” she said.
Becker then attempted to justify the message by describing its context.
“That was between a prayer group and the Lord,” she said. “And if it’s offended anyone I’m certainly sorry about it, but there was certainly no intention other than to petition for opportunities for breakthrough and change, so we can work together to be able to bring forth prosperity to Alaska — all Alaskans.”
Metlakatla resident Melody Leask didn’t accept that explanation. She asked Becker to try her apology again, pledging to keep an open mind and saying Metlakatla has long welcomed political candidates of all stripes. Leask asked Becker to acknowledge how those words were offensive, including to Leask’s mother, who was present.
“We all make mistakes,” Leask began. “But what I’m asking you today in our house, in our way, is that you apologize — not only to all our people, but apologize to our elder right here.”
Becker stood by her earlier statement.
“The words of that prayer were between a prayer group and God. They had no words of offense for any particular — to call out or hurt any particular individual. That was a prayer,” she said. “If there was anything offensive, I apologize for any offense to any people, but the words of the prayer were between me and God.”
“I don’t hear an apology,” Leask said. Others echoed her.
The afternoon concluded with a ceremony that resident Gyibaawm Laxha (David Boxley) described as “cleans[ing] the house.” A half-dozen or so Metlakatla residents prayed and sang a song written by Huk Tgini’itsga Xsgiik (Gavin Hudson) entitled “We Can Speak For Ourselves.”
Becker’s campaign has stockpiled some $75,000 since she first filed in July, according to state records. The majority of that is from her personal account. Becker put $25,000 towards her campaign shortly after filing for office in April. She made another $25,000 contribution to her campaign in late September.
As of Sunday afternoon, updated financial records for Becker’s opponent, incumbent Rep. Dan Ortiz — a Ketchikan independent — were not available on the state’s website. Prior filings show Ortiz’s largest contributors as labor groups.
Asked why she read the controversial blog post aloud amidst a largely hostile crowd, Becker said she “wanted to make sure the words were verbatim, not taken out of context.”
“I think people are entitled to their reactions,” Becker said. “I’m not going to judge reactions.”
Editor’s note: Reporter Eric Stone borrowed a car from a Metlakatla resident, Johan Atkison, who protested Leslie Becker’s event.