State bureaucrats shoot for fun

Murkowski Cabinet, PR staffers morph into 'Republiguns'

Posted: Sunday, February 19, 2006

Somewhere out in the Wild West Mendenhall Valley, scores are settled with a shotgun and an ability to blow an orange clay pigeon to bits.

Meet the "Republiguns," a posse of Gov. Frank Murkowski's Cabinet and public-relations staffers who enjoy squeezing a trigger after a hard week of answering questions from nagging reporters.

"It's like bowling, only with guns," said Mike Chambers, a team member and spokesman for the governor.

Department of Revenue Deputy Commissioner Tom Boutin this year rounded up a mishmash of sharpshooters, deadeyes and sugarfoots for a group originally called "Tom's Team."

Press secretary Becky Hultberg, also a shooter, suggested the more memorable moniker "Republiguns." This is her first time to fire a gun competitively, and she surprised herself during her initial round when she blasted eight targets.

"It's great when you hit one for the first time," she said. Her personal best is 19 out of a total 50 shots, 25 at two different distances.

The other members are the lieutenant governor's chief of staff Annette Kreitzer, special assistant Lacy Reinhart and alternate Jeff Hultberg, Becky's husband.

The gang of five belongs to a Thursday night league at the Juneau Gun Club, where the smell of gunpowder punches you in the nostrils, pickups line the parking lot and ear plugs and goggles are the dress code.

The Republiguns have a modest placing in the league's novice group, right between "The Lost Boys" and "The Young Guns." At this point, they are satisfied with participating an a winter activity that gets them out of the house and gives them something to talk about at the water cooler.

Chambers, the best on the team at understanding one's performance, said jokingly before his turn, "Don't laugh, until we're out of ammo."

While in high school, Chambers worked as a trap setter and scorekeeper at a shooting range near Springfield, Ill. Now back in the saddle, he's trying to figure out the secret to hitting the target.

"Whatever you did to break the last one, just do it again," said Chambers, repeating advice that others gave him.

The fun is not limited to Republiguns or Republicans. The gun club has 200 active members and hosts several events each year, as well as public shooting hours on Wednesday nights and Sunday afternoons.

Chambers and Hultberg said they welcome a team of Democrats to the competition.

"Anytime they're ready," said Rep. Harry Crawford, D-Anchorage, adding he would bring his gun to Juneau next week.

"We'd be happy to give them a lesson anytime," said Rep. Eric Croft, D-Anchorage.

• Andrew Petty can be reached at andrew.petty@juneauempire.com.



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