Palin's leaving opens political doors for others

Several 2010 gubernatorial candidates declaring intent to run

Posted: Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's early departure from office is creating political opportunity for others who want to be the state's next chief executive.

Some have already filed letters of intent with the Alaska Public Offices Commission to run in 2010. Others are circulating the word in other ways.

Palin announced last Friday that she was resigning and would not seek a second term. Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell, who will step into the top job July 26, has said he intends to run for governor in the next election.

The list of other candidates includes Sen. Hollis French, a Democrat from Anchorage who oversaw the "Troopergate" investigation that looked into the firing of Palin's public safety commissioner.

Longtime Rep. John Harris, a Republican from Valdez, has said he would like to be Alaska's next governor, as would Democrat Bob Poe, a former commissioner of the administration department, who announced his intentions well before Palin's announcement.

"Right now, I'm focused on transition," Parnell said Tuesday.

"I think Alaskans are ready for a change," said Patti Higgins, chairwoman of the Alaska Democratic Party. "They want people that will get in there, work hard and finish the job and do things in a professional manner."

Carl Shepro, a political science professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage, said Palin's departure could bring more stability to the executive branch and a better working relationship between the governor and lawmakers.

Her leaving now probably is intended to help Parnell, Shepro said.

"I would imagine what she was trying to do in part was to give Parnell a leg up on the election," he said.

Former Rep. Ethan Berkowitz, a Democrat from Anchorage who held the position of House minority leader, said he intends to become an official candidate in late summer or early fall.

Berkowitz was soundly defeated by U.S. Rep. Don Young in the last general election after Young barely survived a Republican challenge from Parnell.

Berkowitz said the governor's job is attractive because "it is not what you want to be but what you want to do."

Republican Gerald Heikes of Palmer, an Alaska Air National Guard veteran who previously was unsuccessful in a run for the U.S. Senate, also has his eye on the governor's office.

"I will develop our natural resources and every Alaskan will share the benefits. This is not just political hot air, it can work, with your help," Heikes says on his Web site.

Robert Rosenfeld of Homer, a Democrat, also intends to seek the job.

He works for the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council. His page on Facebook says, "Rob is disappointed in Governor Palin's work attendance and follow-through. He promises to show up for work 100 percent of the time ..."

More candidates are expected to emerge as the election approaches.

Randy Ruedrich, chairman of the Alaska Republican Party, said by the time the 2010 primary election is held, Palin's resignation will be a fading memory.

"I don't believe that by the time we get to the primary this will be relevant," he said. "This unique event will no longer be the driving force. The Alaska economy, jobs in Alaska and unforeseen issues will be much more important than something that happened in July 2009."

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