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ANCHORAGE - Bob Poe kicked off his campaign for Alaska governor Thursday and drew a bead on the incumbent, Sarah Palin.
The Democrat said he was not running against a particular candidate. But he criticized Palin, the former Republican nominee for vice president, for being out of town and out of touch for much of her two years in office.
"Managing the day-to-day issues of the state of Alaska is not very sexy, but it is critical stuff to the daily lives of Alaskans," Poe said. "Since she became governor, she has barely held a cabinet meeting. It's time to put Alaska's future ahead of one's own political future."
Palin spokesman Bill McAllister said it was presumptuous of Poe to comment on the internal workings of the administration.
"He doesn't know what he's talking about," McAllister said.
Poe is the first Alaskan to declare his candidacy for the 2010 race. He's starting early, he said, because he lacks the name recognition of career politicians.
"I'm not exactly a household name," he said.
Poe, 54, is a 28-year Alaskan who has split his professional career between the private and public sector. He holds a masters degree in business administration from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. His wide experience as a negotiator and administrator makes him qualified to be governor, he said.
"If states did succession-planning like many corporations do, this is the background they would try to build into their future governors," he said.
Poe was commissioner of the state Department of Administration under Gov. Tony Knowles and worked for three other governors. He was a deputy commissioner in the state Department of Transportation, director of the Office of International Trade, director of administrative services for the Department of Environmental Conservation, and business development manager for the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, the state agency that lends money to promote economic development.
He moved to Alaska in 1981 with Price Waterhouse and was one of two designers of the state accounting system. He's the former president of the Anchorage Economic Development Corp.
Currently a business consultant, he has never run for public office.
Alaska is on an economic precipice, he said, with one-third of the economy riding on oil and natural gas production and another third tied to federal spending.
The state has not taken sufficient steps to weather the economic downturn, he said.
"Sarah Palin bragged to the nation she took on Big Oil," he said. "This is like publicly telling off your biggest customer. While it may feel good, it doesn't do your business any favors in the long run."
New investment, he said, depends on the perception of the business climate in Alaska.
Despite Palin's pronouncements on progress for a proposed multibillion dollar natural gas pipeline, he said, Palin has been "gaming" the process. Her administration turned a business negotiation into a bureaucratic request for proposals.
A real leader, he said, would bring together current and future natural gas producers, pipeline operators, right-of-way owners, affected communities, state and federal regulators, financial markets and Canadian representatives for negotiations in a businesslike manner, not a political manner.
"Alaska is no further along with the gas pipeline that we were even three years ago," he said. "We will not succeed if we continue this administration's policy of divide and conquer."
As for other projects, Poe said, developers of the Kensington Mine north of Juneau are headed for the U.S. Supreme Court over a proposed plan to dump mine tailings. Exxon Mobil has sued to reclaim leases at Point Thomson that were stripped by the state for lack of development, and the case could be in litigation for a decade, he said.
"What role has the governor played to assure these projects move forward in ways that are environmentally acceptable to most Alaskans?" Poe said.
Poe said the aggressive, partisan rhetoric of ridicule and divisiveness that Palin indulged in on the national stage will not serve Alaska well in the new Congress or the White House.
"This is a time when Alaska urgently needs experienced leadership, not slogans, not scandals, not photo ops."
McAllister rejected Poe's criticism that Palin's absences have hurt the state. Other governors, including George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, ran for national office while running their states. Since the election, Palin has been out of the state for five days and she's devoted less than one day to political activity despite numerous requests, McAllister said.
As for the natural gas pipeline process, McAllister said, Palin in 2006 campaigned in response to a plan by former Gov. Frank Murkowski that would have sacrificed state sovereignty and committed the state to a fixed tax rate for decades.
Palin's plan set terms for a project and let companies meet them. The process that followed was approved by the Alaska legislature in 2007, with a contract debated, approved and awarded with legislative review last year.
McAllister wondered if Poe wanted a return to closed negotiations and giveaways.
"I don't see any evidence that that's what the public wants," McAllister said.