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ANCHORAGE - Ernie Hall, an Anchorage businessman and activist who led a campaign against a statewide property tax cap, announced Wednesday that he is running for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor.
"It's a perfect job for an Ernie Hall," he said at a news conference about his first bid for statewide office. "I have the ability to bring people together and build consensus."
Hall, 58, said he changed his political affiliation from nonpartisan to Democrat and has resigned as a member of the Alaska State Board of Education to run for office.
He also is resigning as chairman of Alaskans United, a grass roots organization concerned with the fiscal gap. Hall had led the group's precursor - Alaskans United Against the Cap - which two years ago launched a drive against the unsuccessful 2000 ballot initiative that sought to cap property taxes.
In his run for state office, Hall plans to actively campaign with Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor.
Hall, whose family runs a furniture manufacturing business, said he's been approached about running at least once a day for the past three months. He sat on "the cusp" of a decision before he met at length with Ulmer and discovered they have the same goals in such issues as economic development, solving the state's fiscal problem and education.
"I believe in her vision and her understanding of the issues facing Alaska," Hall said. "She really has a grasp of that."
Ulmer praised Hall's devotion to the state and his community, but stopped short of aligning herself with him. She said she wants to wait and see who else runs for lieutenant governor as a Democrat.
"I've had the opportunity to work with (Hall) on issues involving education," Ulmer said. "He is hardworking, focused and somebody who has taken a very active role in trying to make this a better state. All I know about him is positive."
Hall said his campaign will focus on four issues: education; health and safety; promoting economic development; and fixing the state's fiscal problem.
To solve the state's money woes, Hall said he would support some combination of taxation and tapping the permanent fund. He believes the public would be willing to play a role in closing the fiscal gap if it understood how critical the problem is.
"But I'm really hoping the Legislature deals with the problem this year," Hall said. "I don't think we have time to waste."
Besides Hall, only Anchorage longshoreman Scott Heyworth has announced his candidacy in the Democratic race for lieutenant governor. Heyworth, 52, is the chief sponsor of a ballot initiative to create an authority that could build a natural gas pipeline from the North Slope to Valdez.
Heyworth said he was "totally shocked" to learn about Hall's change of party affiliation.
"He's been a Democrat for 30 hours. I've been a Democrat for 30 years," Heyworth said.