Gara’s gubernatorial running mate has education, military background

Campaign cites need for more opportunity for education regardless of financial means

Palmer educator Jessica Cook has joined former legislator Les Gara in his run for governor of Alaska. Photo courtesy of Gara campaign

Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Les Gara has named Palmer educator Jessica Cook to his ticket as lieutenant governor, saying she brings the energy, intelligence and needed perspective to a state where people see little commitment to public education.

Cook, who teaches in Eagle River, has earned two master’s of education degrees. Born in Alaska, Cook is a former vice president of both Alaska’s and Anchorage’s education associations. Raised in a military family, she is married to an Air Force veteran. The couple has three children and five grandchildren.

Gara and Cook known each other for over a decade and share a common hardship background, in that both of them lost a parent at an early age and grew up in foster and adoptive homes.

“People have a right to a good education, and a good-paying job with a living wage, regardless of their background, hardship, or whether they’re born rich or poor,” Cook said.

The Gara campaign noted that according to the state Department of Labor 20,000 more people have left Alaska than moved here under the Dunleavy administration, because they see no commitment to public education and an economy that has lost jobs since before the COVID-19 pandemic began spreading in Alaska in the early spring of 2020.

“Alaskans are losing jobs and educational opportunities because of a lack of leadership,” Gara said on Monday, Feb. 14, as he announced that Cook had joined his ticket. “Giving away $1.3 billion in oil company ‘tax credit’ subsidies makes us poor. That prevents us from building the future of good schools, good jobs and funding a stronger dividend than we’ve seen under this governor.

“It’s wrong to give away the value of Alaska’s resources and then pit Alaskans against each other to fight between schools, a strong university, police in dozens of communities that have none, a PFD, and the things that can build a stronger state.”

Gara and Cook said they support a return of construction and other jobs needed to address a $2 billion state and university infrastructure maintenance backlog. They said they support responsible development but feel that Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s backing of the proposed Pebble mine threatens jobs, fishing and the world’s greatest wild salmon runs.