FAIRBANKS - Though many Alaskans may not know the duties of the lieutenant governor, the importance of the post was reinforced last summer when Gov. Sarah Palin resigned and then-Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell replaced her.
Seven politicians are seeking to fill Parnell's old post. Four met Tuesday in Fairbanks for a forum. Diane Benson was the only one of four Democrats to attend. Republicans Eddie Burke, Jay Ramras and Mead Treadwell highlighted differences in personalities, backgrounds and visions during the hourlong forum.
Burke, a former radio host, presented conservative positions on firearms and abortion and criticized the $8 billion state budget approved by Ramras and other state lawmakers.
Ramras said the lieutenant governor's office represents an underused bully pulpit in a state thirsty for new investment. Treadwell, meanwhile, said state officials must focus on refilling the trans-Alaska oil pipeline and the construction of a natural gas pipeline.
The primary election is Aug. 24. Current Lt. Gov. Craig Campbell, who was appointed to replace Parnell, chose not to run.
"This is the seat where I see a place to provide voice to the people," said Benson, a former talent agency manager who lauched unsuccessful bids against U.S. Rep. Don Young in 2006 and 2008.
The lieutenant governor's office oversees the state Division of Elections and keeps tabs on initiatives filed by voters, among other duties.
Ramras, of Fairbanks, sees a greater potential for the post, one in which he said would boost efforts to attract capital from investors in Texas, the Pacific Rim and elsewhere. Ramras added that an active lieutenant governor's office can also foster trade between Alaska's rural and urban communities.
Treadwell said the lieutenant governor's duties can be expanded by serving as an honest - sometimes tough - adviser to the governor.