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ANCHORAGE - Republican John Binkley staked out the ethical high ground Thursday in his party's race for governor, claiming he will introduce reforms to restore Alaskans' faith in government lost under the administration of incumbent Frank Murkowski.
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Binkley said trust in government was fundamental and ranks higher than the single issue that has dominated the campaign to date - a proposed contract with three major oil companies that could lead to construction of a multibillion dollar natural gas pipeline from the North Slope to the Lower 48.
"I believe you cannot lead if you do not have the trust of the people of the state of Alaska, and this governor has lost that trust," he said. "And I do not believe he will be able to get any gas line agreement passed by the Legislature and approved by the people of Alaska because of that loss of trust."
Binkley, a former state senator from Bethel and a businessman from Fairbanks, said hundreds Alaskans have expressed to him a loss in the trust of leadership under Murkowski, one of Binkley's two main rivals for the Republican nomination, along with former Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin.
Mike Scott, campaign manager for Murkowski, said Binkley must be traveling down a different political path.
"The voters on the campaign trail certainly aren't raising it," he said. "It seems as though it's more political consultants and others that seem to want to make it more of an issue than the public seems to be thinking it is."
Murkowski is running on his accomplishments and his proposals for the next four years, Scott said.
"Other campaigns have avoided the real issues confronting the state by trying to personally attack the governor," he said. "The momentum we've seen in our campaign, the people are tired of the politics of destruction."
Murkowski, who spent 22 years in the U.S. Senate, has been dogged by questions about his personnel appointments, starting with the woman he chose as his own replacement - daughter Lisa Murkowski, who subsequently was elected to the Senate in 2004.
Murkowski's first attorney general, Gregg Renkes, resigned after revelations about his personal stock holdings. Renkes helped shape a trade agreement between Alaska and Taiwan that mentioned the use of coal-drying technology patented by a company in which Renkes owned stock valued at more than $126,000 at its peak.
Edgar Blatchford in 2005 resigned as commissioner of the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development amid conflict-of-interest allegations between that job and his leadership position with a Native corporation.
Binkley, a longtime Republican loyalist, would not name names in making his case for a loss of trust in Murkowski. Likewise, he would not comment on the departure of another high-profile Murkowski appointee, Randy Ruedrich, who was fined $12,000 for engaging in partisan political activity while he was a member of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission at the same time he was chairman of the Republican Party of Alaska. Ruedrich remains the chairman.
"I'm only here to talk about my actions going forward and what I propose to do and the standards I propose to set," Binkley said.
Binkley also denied his attention to ethics was aimed at Palin, who in recent weeks has been pilloried in the Anchorage Daily News, Alaska's largest newspaper.
In editorials and columns appearing in a section called "Voice of the Times," written by staffers for the owner of the paper's former rival, the Anchorage Times, columnist Paul Jenkins has questioned Palin's use of her city computer for political e-mails during her unsuccessful run for lieutenant governor in 2002 while she was the elected mayor of Wasilla.
Palin said Thursday it was not the rules that were the problem, it was leadership.
"Regardless of the rules, I will show the leadership to ensure that the rules are followed," she said in an e-mail.