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Alaska governor to play role in legislative races

Posted: July 15, 2012 - 12:10am

JUNEAU — Gov. Sean Parnell said Friday he wants to break up the current bipartisan majority in the Alaska Senate and will work to get more Republicans elected to the state Legislature in November.

Most of the 59 legislative seats up for grabs will feature contested races.

The Senate is currently divided 10-10 between Republicans and Democrats, with six Republicans joining those Democrats to create a majority coalition.

Among leadership, the Senate president and majority leader are Republicans and a member of the GOP also co-chairs the powerful Senate Finance Committee.

Parnell, a Republican, told The Associated Press the coalition is bipartisan in name only and actually is controlled by Democrats.

“I’m much more interested in having people who want to serve together on behalf of Alaskans and grow our economy through less spending, less taxes and kind of that liberty mentality,” he said.

Alaska Democrats have pushed back. In an email earlier this year, party Chairman Don Gray said the state Republican Party “is desperate to topple the Senate’s Bipartisan Working Group and replace it with an ideologically pure, uncompromising Republican majority. We can’t let that happen.”

Parnell said legislators have to work across party lines to get things done, but “it’s either going to be controlled by those with a world view that includes more personal freedom, less government dependence, or the opposite.”

Parnell suffered a political blow last year, when Senate coalition leaders refused to follow the House and act on his plan to cut oil production taxes, saying they didn’t have the information needed to make a sound policy call. Addressing oil taxes is a top priority for Parnell, who sees cutting taxes as a way to boost industry investment in the state and now-flagging oil production.

Efforts to change the tax structure failed during this year’s regular and special sessions.

Parnell said his work to support Republican legislative candidates is not just about oil taxes but also involves reduced spending and creating a climate of opportunity for Alaskans.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, said Parnell wants a “rubber-stamp Legislature,” and attempts to break up the coalition go right back to oil taxes. “Don’t let anybody kid you,” he said.

“What else is it about?” he asked. “Where are the other major differences we’ve had?”

Parnell said that despite some frustrations with the coalition, “we’ve also demonstrated some success at creating opportunities for Alaskans” by restraining spending, creating a student scholarship program and acting to bring more visitors to the state.

“I think we have a lot to be thankful for, in terms of progress made, but there’s a lot more work to be done,” he said.

The 40-member House is controlled by Republicans, and four Democrats caucus with the GOP.

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