Hot races expected in Southeast

Posted: Friday, June 02, 2000

Southeast will likely see some heavy campaigning this summer with wide open contests for the two open state Senate seats and a couple of House seats up for grabs.

The money campaign will likely be to the south of Juneau, where two people are challenging incumbent Republican Sen. Robin Taylor in Senate District A.

The retirements of incumbents Jerry Mackie in Senate District C and Ben Grussendorf in House District 2 -- districts that include Sitka, Kodiak, Petersburg and Wrangell -- drew newcomers.

Wrangell Mayor Bill Privett, a Republican, and Greg Middag, a Ketchikan Democrat, both want to take on Taylor in Senate District A, which runs from Ketchikan to Sitka.

Privett, the 47-year-old owner and operator of a bulk oil plant in Wrangell, said it's going to take cash to unseat Taylor, who ran for governor two years ago.

``I assume it's going to take a great deal of money to do this,'' he said today. ``He's a 16-year incumbent.''

Privett said he's raised about $20,000 for his campaign already, and will be fund-raising a lot, including a stop in Sitka tonight. He's focusing on Taylor's vote against a measure that would have put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to allow for a rural priority for subsistence. Taylor was one of eight senators who voted against a version of such a measure that passed the House. Ending budget cutting and deferring needed maintenance of state property -- especially schools -- are also priorities.

``We've done enough damage,'' Privett said. ``It's time for change. Some fresh ideas.''

Taylor, 57, said he's been targeted before by money. He's confident he'll keep his seat against his two challengers. Subsistence really is, he said, ``all they're running on.'' He'll be running on his vote against a plan to use part of the earnings of the Alaska Permanent Fund to fill the state's budget gap.

``I'll run primarily on the permanent Fund Dividend raid,'' Taylor said today. ``I was on the right side of that.'' Also, he said, he's in favor of more deposits into the fund.

A Bradfield Road project is among his top priorities as is the construction of an power intertie, which will eventually link with Juneau, he said. Also, Taylor said, he's got clout in the Senate.

Middag, who unsuccessfully challenged Taylor four years ago, said he's running again because the Republican majority of which Taylor is a member ``has not fulfilled their obligations to the people of Alaska.''

He pointed to the Legislature's failure to put a subsistence constitutional amendment on the ballot as an example.

Middag, 52 and a teacher at Ketchikan High School, said Alaska is also not spending enough money on education, seafood marketing, child protection, the marine highway system and other services.

``Alaska just has so many problems and Robin's not helping and the fellow that's running against him (Privett) is part of that majority or wants to be.''

Four people are running for the Senate District C seat being vacated by Republican Jerry Mackie of Craig. The district runs from Kodiak through Southeast's islands.

The certified candidates include Kodiak Republican Rep. Al Austerman, Yakutat Democrat John Waldron, Skagway Democrat John Mielke and Klawock Democrat Aaron T. Isaacs Jr. Two additional candidates, Webster Demmert III and Tim June have filed but have yet to be certified for the election.

Waldron, 36, a village public safety officer in Yakutat, said he wants to see more money for education and public safety.

He also said the state needs to do a better job of sticking up for the fishing and timber industries in Southeast when federal policies are being made. Waldron has served on Yakutat School Board and the Yakutat Assembly.

``I've been involved with local politics here in Yakutat for five or six years now,'' he said, ``and I've been involved on the legislative level as being a liaison and have seen lots of things that have been going on and I feel I can contribute to that, hopefully for the better.''

Mielke, 50, is mayor of Skagway. He said he's running because he's unhappy with the job the Legislature's been doing.

``It's just I'm sick and tired of watching this self-imposed mandate of no new taxes and cut the budget,'' Mielke said. ``I just see cuts that are really hurting all of Alaska, but rural Alaskans are certainly feeling them more quickly. I just feel the majority has had their turn and it's time for change.''

He's willing to consider taxes and would favor an income tax because it would tap the earnings of workers who come to Alaska just for the summer and spend little money here.

Mielke is chief mechanical officer for White Pass Railroad and is in his second term as mayor.

Austerman, 57, said running for an open Senate seat is the next logical step after six years in the House of Representatives. ``It's a natural move for me because I don't plan on staying as a legislator, making a career out of it.''

Spending the next six to eight years as a senator would top off his political career, he said.

He believes his experience in both commercial and sport fishing industries, as well as his involvement in fisheries issues in the Legislature, will serve the coastal district well.

He also plans to push for a long-term fiscal plan that he and several other legislators tried unsuccessfully to move through the House this year. It included some use of permanent fund interest earnings and unspecified taxes.

Aaron Isaacs Jr., 61, a former mayor of Klawock, calls himself a ``conservative Democrat with a social conscience. I'm aware of the needs of the people that can't afford.''

He said the state needs to spend more money on rural education, senior citizens' services, safe water and sewage systems, and it needs to provide better marine highway service. Economic development also needs a lot of attention, he said.

He's also concerned about deficit spending. ``I see where they've made some improvements but still there's a lot of money that's spent needlessly.''

Three people are running for the House District 2 seat, being vacated by longtime Sitka Democratic Rep. Ben Grussendorf. The district includes Wrangell, Sitka and Petersburg.

The candidates are Stan Filler, a Democrat who's currently Sitka's mayor; Peggy Wilson, a Republican from Wrangell; and Frank Richards, a Republican from Sitka.

Two incumbents in Southeast will be unchallenged this fall. House District 1 Republican Rep. Bill Williams of Saxman and District 5 Democratic Rep. Al Kookesh of Angoon face no opposition.

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