Candidates for the Legislature jumped in and out of races Thursday as the deadline to run for office approached.
By the 5 p.m. cutoff, incumbent Reps. Alan Kemplen, an Anchorage Democrat, and Tom Brice, a Fairbanks Democrat, had decided not to seek another term, and a few tough races were shaping up around the state.
Half of the 20 seats in the Senate and all 40 slots in the House are at stake this year. Four Senate seats and eight seats in the House have no incumbent.
Republican Sen. Jerry Ward, one of the Legislature's most conservative members, drew the most challengers, including three Democrats, a Republican and a Green. Former Democratic Sen. Mike Szymanski appeared to be the most formidable challenger for the seat, which includes south Anchorage and part of the Kenai Peninsula.
``I was recruited by many Republicans and Democrats who suggested that I could come back and lend a moderate voice to the process,'' said Szymanski, who said the current GOP majority has cut key public services in its quest to reduce the budget. ``I just don't want to see Alaska go down the tubes because we've got a lot of partisan bickering going on.''
Ward said he would defend his seat by defending the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend. Ward bitterly opposed last year's plan to spend some of the fund's earnings to close the state's budget gap. The proposal was soundly rejected by voters in an advisory election.
``The people of the state of Alaska spoke loudly on Sept. 14 to leave the permanent fund alone,'' Ward said.
Also in the Senate, Michael Burns, an Anchorage banker, jumped into the Republican primary race to replace retiring Sen. Sean Parnell. Burns will take on Republican Rep. John Cowdery in the primary.
Former Rep. Bettye Davis faces two other Democrats in the race to replace Sen. Tim Kelly, an Anchorage Republican. Former GOP Rep. Terry Martin is running for the Republican nomination.
In the race for retiring Kotzebue Democrat Al Adams' seat, Richard ``Savik'' Glenn of Barrow, Donny Olson of Nome and Andy Baker of Kotzebue are all running as Democrats.
In the House, Kemplen's departure opens a seat that had been considered safe for the Democrats.
Kemplen of Anchorage endorsed Democrat Gretchen Guess, a former aide to Gov. Tony Knowles and former Education Commissioner Shirley Holloway.
Guess, a business analyst for Alaska Communications Systems, is the daughter of the late Rep. Gene Guess, House Speaker in the early 1970s. She faces Regina Manteufel in the Democratic primary, while Republicans Randy Smith and Clinton Johnson square off for the GOP nomination.
Brice's last-minute departure from the race apparently caught potential Republican challengers unawares.
Democrat Joe Hayes, one of Brice's aides, was the only candidate who filed before the deadline, which means he will take over the seat without a campaign.
The Soldotna House seat vacated by Republican Rep. Gary Davis' retirement drew one Democrat and five Republicans, including Soldotna Mayor Ken Lancaster.
In Anchorage, the seat left open by Republican John Cowdery's run for the Senate drew five candidates, four Republicans and Ray Metcalfe, the leader of the Republican Moderate Party.
That race figures to be the fledgling party's best chance at winning a seat in the Legislature. A handful of other Republican Moderates filed for other seats as spoilers, said Metcalfe, who wants to lessen the influence of social conservatives in the GOP-dominated Legislature.
``We want to reduce that supermajority down there, if not eliminate it all together,'' said Metcalfe, who believes his party's candidates will draw votes from conservative Republicans and push Democrats into office.
However, one Republican Moderate, Clyde Baxley, withdrew to give Democrat Harry Crawford a clear run at incumbent Rep. Ramona Barnes, an Anchorage Republican. Crawford lost to Barnes by 72 votes two years ago.
In House District 36, which covers a vast area in the Bush, Democrat Irene Nicholia launched a bid to reclaim the seat she lost to Republican Carl Morgan by six votes in 1998.