Northwest Digest

Posted: Monday, May 17, 2004

Research poll collects information for GOP

ANCHORAGE - Last October, just days before the municipal election, phones started ringing at the 10,206 households of Juneau and Douglas.

At the dialing end of the call was a computer owned by a high-tech telemarketing company from Herndon, Va. A Juneau resident answering the other end of the line heard a voice say, "This is Election Research with a 45-second political survey."

If residents stuck with the call and spoke "yes" or "no" in a voice clear enough for the computer to understand, they learned that three local candidates had paid for the "survey."

What they weren't told is that this was no ordinary public opinion poll, where individual responses are pooled for statistical purposes and no single person's private thoughts recorded in a way that could later identify them.

As the computer gathered the answers, it stored each one individually, making it possible to retrieve them later by phone number, household name or address for other purposes. These calls and thousands of others were also placed in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough that week.

Though Alaska's local elections are officially nonpartisan, the mass phoning was organized by Republican leaders - state party boss Randy Ruedrich, vice chair Paulette Simpson of Douglas and Justin Stiefel, then chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and now her campaign manager.

Their involvement only came to light as a result of the state ethics investigation of Ruedrich, which uncovered evidence of political activity he conducted out of the state office he occupied until his resignation in November. With dozens of party-related e-mail messages and documents found in his office and made public, the investigation has had the side effect of revealing the behind-the-scenes activities of one of Alaska's most successful political operatives.

The polling-marketing campaign is one of the bases for civil charges that Ruedrich used his state office in the Alaska Oil & Gas Conservation Commission for partisan activity. Last week, the state rejected Ruedrich's formal denial of wrongdoing and declared there was probable cause that he knowingly violated the Executive Ethics Act.

Cruise ship passengers more likely to stay in port

ANCHORAGE - The typical cruise ship passenger has changed in recent years, ever since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 when companies slashed prices to entice people to travel again.

The typical passenger now is more economy-minded and tends to stay in ports of call rather than venturing out on land tours to see more of Alaska.

Although cruise ship prices have recovered to a degree, the cruise lines are still offering seven-day trips, meals included, for $599, said Bob Dindinger, president of Alaska Travel Adventures.

"Anybody can afford to cruise," said Anchorage travel consultant Scott McMurren.

Instead of the high-end crowd of years past, McMurren said, many people taking cruises these days simply don't have the disposable income to purchase land packages to Denali or Fairbanks.

Rangers climb to rescue injured climber

SEATTLE - An injured climber stranded with his companion on a steep slope near the Mount Rainier summit prepared for a second night on the mountain as temperatures dipped below zero Sunday evening.

Two rescue climbers were expected to reach the stranded men Monday morning to assess the situation, said Patti Wold, a spokeswoman for Mount Rainier National Park. Deep snow and whiteout conditions delayed the rescuers who began their ascent Saturday. They had scaled 9,000 feet by early Sunday evening, she said.

Peter Cooley, 39, had been showing signs of a severe head injury, and Wold said his condition was the same. He slipped and fell early Saturday morning on Liberty Ridge at the 12,300-foot level of the 14,410-foot mountain.

"He's in and out of consciousness, not coherent, agitated. He's not in good mental condition," spokeswoman Lee Taylor said earlier Sunday. She said the injury is life-threatening.

Cooley's climbing partner, Scott Richards, 42, set up a tent and boiled water, Taylor said. The pair, both from Cape Elizabeth, Maine, had enough supplies to get them through the night as they awaited a rescue effort expected to take several days.

Tent city moves to uncertain welcome

SEATTLE - A tent city of homeless people will move Monday morning to a new location at St. Brendan Catholic Church in suburban Bothell, despite worries among neighbors.

Several residents who attended a city-sponsored meeting Saturday night said they were concerned about the safety of children nearby. At least three schools are located close to the 2-acre site, including two church schools and one public elementary school.

"I can tell you, you will see more police officers around those schools than you've ever seen," Bothell police Chief Forrest Conover told the crowd of about 200 people at Saturday's meeting.

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