Fairbanks' Whitaker opts out of 2004 House race

Posted: Thursday, July 24, 2003

Fairbanks Republican Rep. Jim Whitaker, who is running for mayor of the Fairbanks North Star Borough, says he will not seek another term in the House of Representatives even if he loses the mayoral election.

The next election for representatives is in 2004.

Whitaker, 52, owns the New Horizons art gallery and Arctic Travelers gift shop in Fairbanks. He faces incumbent Rhonda Boyles in the October mayoral election.

He said he decided to run for mayor largely to prepare the town for the economic growth a gas pipeline would bring. He believes construction of a gas pipeline from Prudhoe Bay will proceed.

"There are a number of people who disagree with me on that, but there are a number of people who agree, including willing buyers," Whitaker said. "We have to be ready for an imminent gas project. That's going to require a depth of knowledge and willingness to fight for the community's position with regard to that project."

Whitaker also said he would focus on the economic foundation of the region through continued growth of the University of Alaska and the military.

Whitaker is serving his third term in the state House, representing District 10.

In the 2003 session, he became a high-profile lawmaker, serving on the powerful House Finance Committee and as co-chairman of the newly formed Ways and Means Committee.

On the Ways and Means panel, Whitaker worked with co-chairman Republican Rep. Mike Hawker of Anchorage to craft a solution to the state budget gap.

"What we've proposed in the House Ways and Means Committee was a multi-component structure," Whitaker said, listing cost control, some use of the earnings of the Alaska Permanent Fund, broad-based taxes and economic growth as the top goals.

A proposed sales tax that would have raised about $300 million annually was passed by the committee but failed to garner the necessary support to make it to a vote in the full House.

Whitaker said he set two primary goals when deciding to run for the House seat in 1998: bringing Alaska gas to market and tackling the state's chronic budget gap.

"Both of those issues are moving forward, and they are going to move forward whether I am there or not," he said.

Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at timothyi@juneauempire.com.

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