Seven legislative candidates bow out of August primary

Posted: Friday, July 12, 2002

Several legislative candidates left the primary this week, but enough will hang around to make a lot of noise before voters go to the polls on Aug. 27.

Seven candidates officially notified the state Division of Elections on Wednesday that they would be dropping out of the race this year. The move will streamline some of the cluttered races but won't diffuse some messy primary fights between Democrats and Republicans.

Alaska voters will pick the party's legislative candidate in 17 Republican races and five Democratic races. In eight races, the winner of the August primary will face no challenger in the Nov. 5 general election.

"Much of the debate will be over at the end of the primary," said House Majority Leader Jeannette James, a Republican from North Pole. "I think it's very unusual."

In several races, challengers just decided to bow out rather than force an expensive primary fight that could threaten the balance of power in the GOP-controlled Legislature.

Dave Guzy ended his bid for the GOP nod in Anchorage's House District 29 to clear the way for fellow Republican Ralph Samuels.

"We talked it over and I decided I would help out with his campaign," said Guzy.

Democrat Rosalie Nadeau dropped out on the same day and now Samuels will face Republican Moderate Party founder Ray Metcalfe in November.

Republican Bill Cook ended what could have been a tough three-way battle for House District 18, where a new legislative map had put incumbent Rep. Lisa Murkowski in unfamiliar territory.

Murkowski, a moderate Republican and daughter to GOP gubernatorial candidate Frank Murkowski, will have to run in the unfamiliar areas of Chugiak, Eagle River and Birchwood.

Murkowski will face Nancy Dahlstrom of Eagle River for the seat in the August primary. No other party fielded a candidate there.

"I think it's going to come down to a campaign where the Birchwood, Chugiak, Eagle River folks need to figure out whether they are OK with someone who is from outside their traditional area," Murkowski said.

Cook said he was prompted to run by Murkowski's legislative votes, specifically votes in favor of an income tax and the use of the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend for state government.

Murkowski was a key member of the Fiscal Policy Caucus, which supported a mix of taxes and permanent fund revenues to close a billion-dollar hole in the state's budget.

The plan stalled in the face of opposition from more conservative lawmakers. Alaska's budget shortfall is projected to be $963 million next fiscal year and drain the state's savings account by 2004.

Cook dropped out after meeting with Dahlstrom to avoid splitting support from Republicans in the Eagle River area, he said.

"Why split the vote up? I think to do otherwise would have been obviously selfish," Cook said.

Republicans, who hold a 28-12 majority in the House, conceded only four seats to Democrats. The primary will settle the race for House District 23 between Anchorage Democrats Jane Angvik and Les Gara.

Rep. Mary Kapsner, a Bethel Democrat, faces a Democratic challenge from former Rep. Ivan Ivan for House District 38.

The GOP primary fight for Senate District H between Rep. Scott Ogan of Palmer and Joe Caswell will decide that race. Former Rep. Jerry Sanders dropped out this week.

Incumbent Republican Sens. Ben Stevens of Anchorage, Alan Austerman of Kodiak, and Gene Therriault of North Pole have no Democratic challenger. Therriault will face Trac Copher of the Alaskan Independence Party in the Nov. 5 general election.

Republican Reps. Gary Stevens of Kodiak, Bill Williams of Saxman, Kevin Meyer of Anchorage, Carl Morgan of Aniak, and Jim Whitaker of Fairbanks are running unopposed. So is Nome Rep. Richard Foster, a Democrat aligned with the Republican caucus.

In Juneau, no candidate faces a same-party challenger in the primary. Democratic incumbent Sen. Kim Elton is running against Republican Cathy Muñoz. Republican Bruce Weyrauch is running against Democrat Tim Grussendorf in House District 4, which includes much of the Mendenhall Valley and points north. And Democratic incumbent Beth Kerttula is running against Republican Mike Race for the House District 3 seat, which represents Douglas, downtown Juneau, Lemon Creek and neighborhoods near the airport.

Democrats expect to pick up seats in the Legislature this year, eating into a Republican veto-proof majority, but are not expected to gain control of either house.

A fight over redistricting did much to turn back major Democratic gains even though several Republicans are running in unfamiliar districts. A map approved by the Alaska Redistricting Board had pitted 20 GOP incumbents against each other in this year's primary.

A lengthy court battle threw out some of the pairings and others were avoided when incumbents either stepped down or moved to new districts.

The race for House District 11 between James and Rep. John Coghill, a North Pole Republican, is the last remaining pairing between incumbents. No candidate from other parties is running in that race.

In all, the August primary will settle eight legislative races. In one race, freshman Rep. Drew Scalzi, an Homer Republican, is expected to face Republican Paul Seaton for House District 35.

Republican Peter Roberts announced his plans to drop out of the race in House District 35, covering Homer, Seward and Cooper Landing, but filed his request to remove his name from the ballot after Wednesday's deadline.

The state Division of Elections will have to decide whether to remove the name.

Democrat candidate for lieutenant governor Scott Heyworth was the only statewide candidate to officially drop out. Heyworth has announced plans to quit and support GOP gubernatorial candidate Frank Murkowski.

This will be the first year that all parties vote in a closed primary system, which was approved by the Legislature in 2001. There will be six ballots at the polls and Alaskans registered as undeclared, nonpartisan or "other" must choose one of the six ballots.

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