Knowles seeks return to governor's office

Democrat hopes to match Egan's three terms

Posted: Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles said Monday that he will run for a new term.

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In an interview with The Associated Press, the two-term Democrat invoked Alaska's only three-term governor, fellow Democrat Bill Egan, who returned to office in 1970 for the final planning of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.

"In that same spirit, I will make sure a natural gas pipeline is constructed," Knowles said. "We will never again have to pray for another boom if we have the will and the strength to do this one right."

Also Monday, House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, D-Anchorage, said he would abandon his own gubernatorial campaign to run for lieutenant governor alongside Knowles.

In Alaska, a person can serve a third term as governor if it does not immediately follow the previous two. Knowles was elected governor in 1994 and again in 1998.

In 2004, Knowles ran and lost against Republican Lisa Murkowski for the U.S. Senate seat that her father, Frank Murkowski, had vacated and appointed her to when he became governor in 2002.

Frank Murkowski announced on Friday that he will seek another term.

Knowles said he had not delayed announcing his own campaign plans to see whether Murkowski would enter the race. Rather, Knowles said he waited until just before the June 1 filing deadline to make sure he could completely commit to a campaign and another four years.

With Knowles and Murkowski joining an already-crowded field of Republican and Democratic candidates, the governor's race seemed poised to heat up with the approach of summer.

The prospect of a gas pipeline is shaping up to be the dominant campaign issue.

Murkowski has released a proposed contract to set long-term tax and royalty terms between the state and its three largest oil companies. The deal, which must be ratified by the Legislature, is what the governor and company executives say will create the stability that is needed for the companies to build the 2,100 mile pipeline to Alberta, Canada, at a cost of about $20 billion.

Knowles joined other Republican and Democratic candidates in blasting the contract as having no actual requirements to build a gas line and no consequences for not building one.

"As we make our way through the 350 legal pages that are on the table, I think there are a lot of legitimate concerns. I'll be talking about them as the campaign goes on," Knowles said.

Knowles framed his other campaign messages around some of the other issues Murkowski has been most criticized for: a ballooning state budget in times of great oil wealth, holding the natural-gas contract negotiations in secret and the ethics scandal of former Attorney General Gregg Renkes, who resigned last year over conflict-of-interest allegations in a Taiwanese coal deal.

"I will restore trust and integrity to the office of the governor. No more secret deals, ethical lapses or special-interest agendas," Knowles said.

Murkowski spokesman John Manly said the governor was with his family on Monday and could not be reached for comment.

If Knowles is to face Murkowski at all in the Nov. 7 general election, both must win crowded primary elections on Aug. 22.

With Berkowitz switching to the lieutenant governor's race, the other main Democratic contender is Rep. Eric Croft of Anchorage.

Croft could not be immediately reached for comment on Monday afternoon.

Berkowitz said he decided to team up with Knowles after a couple of months' worth of conversations. If Knowles had decided not to run, he would have continued with his own campaign.

"To me, this wasn't about whether I could win, it's about what the strongest ticket could be that would have the best chance of keeping Alaska's promise and putting the state back on the right road," Berkowitz said.

Running against Murkowski in the Republican primary are former legislator and Fairbanks businessman John Binkley and former Wasilla mayor Sarah Palin.

Andrew Halcro is running as an independent.

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