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Alaska Dems get $100,000 boost

Democratic National Committee tries its grass-roots programs inside Alaska

Posted: Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Democratic National Committee has decided to make Alaska one of the first states to receive funding for more staff members in part of its campaign to revitalize the party.

The DNC is providing $100,000 for two new positions in the party's office in Anchorage. This is the first time Alaska Democrats have received national funds for staff in a non-election year, said Jake Metcalfe, Alaska Democratic Party chairman.

The DNC is starting with lightly populated "red" or Republican-leaning states to initiate grass-roots programs to get its message out while listening to voters, Metcalfe said.

"This is unprecedented that we got money in the off-election year," said Metcalfe, adding that the amount was triple what the state party got before.

The party was criticized after the November elections for not communicating its ideas effectively, Metcalfe said.

"We need to tell voters what we can do for them," he said.

The local affiliation will hire for a full-time communications position and an organizer. The chapter currently has one full-time position, an executive director.

Metcalfe said the Democratic party needs more people to oversee its volunteers.

The Republican Party of Alaska has one full-time staff member, an office manager who coordinates meetings and events, Chairman Randy Ruedrich said. The party relies on volunteers, such as one woman who registered 500 voters last year.

Ruedrich said he was worried about the Democrats' boost in staffing.

"The question is, is it measurable?" he said.

Democrats are trailing in Alaska voter registrations. In October, the state had about 112,000 registered Republicans and 67,000 Democrats, Ruedrich said.

Figures from early June to early July showed 380 new registered Republicans and 98 Democrats, he said.

But 52 percent of Alaskans are registered as nonpartisan or undecided, said Alaska Democratic Party Executive Director Mike Coumbe.

"And there's a lot of Republicans upset with their party," he said.

People are unhappy about the state retirement program, workers' compensation, health care, employment and the governor's leadership, Metcalfe said.

The Alaska Democrats began "listening tours" early this month across the state, meeting with Democrats and independent voters in urban and rural areas.

Metcalfe visited Juneau Democrats at Centennial Hall on July 11. The party is working with activists and others to spread the word about the Democrats and tell people "how they are different than their Republican counterparts," Coumbe said.

Metcalfe thinks Democrats stand a good chance to win the governor's seat and more spots in the Alaska Legislature in the November 2006 election.

At the national level, Metcalfe said voters focused on "guns, God and gays." Those issues do not help Alaskans get jobs, Metcalfe said. Democrats will focus on providing jobs, lowering property taxes and lowering health care costs, he said.

Alaska House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, D-Anchorage, said the national party is starting to listen to Alaskans, particularly on resource development, such as oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and construction of a natural gas pipeline.

Berkowitz spoke briefly about these issues over the weekend at the Democrat Leadership Convention in Columbus, Ohio.

• Andrew Petty can be reached at andrew.petty@juneauempire.com



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