Murkowski, Binkley face off

More than 100 business leaders turn out for event

Posted: Friday, August 04, 2006

Boxing gloves should be brought to the next debate between Gov. Frank Murkowski and challenger John Binkley, quipped one person who watched the two battle vigorously over the North Slope gas line and other issues Thursday at the Moose Lodge.

Sound off on the important issues at

Virtually every seat was taken in the lodge's dining room for the unofficial debate, hosted by the Juneau Chamber of Commerce. More than 100 local business leaders turned out, including representatives from Juneau-based fishing, mining, retail and Native organizations.

A third candidate in the Aug. 22 Republican gubernatorial primary, former Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin, sent word she could not attend the debate, but will visit Juneau on Aug. 17.

Juneau citizens found it difficult to engage the candidates on local issues - such as school dropout rates and maintaining state jobs in Juneau - for very long.

Murkowski and Binkley sparred over their starkly different views on how to proceed with a North Slope gas pipeline.

The governor said the proposed $20 billion pipeline contract needs to be approved now, otherwise the opportunity for a billion dollars in state revenue may be lost forever.

Binkley, a businessman and former state legislator, said the governor's deal with oil producers on the pipeline's fiscal terms doesn't contain the best terms for Alaska. The pipeline deal can be renegotiated quickly, he added.

Despite the stark difference in the candidates' views on the pipeline, some Juneau residents said later they were most struck by Murkowski and Binkley's stylistic differences. In political circles, Murkowski has a reputation for having a dominating style. Binkley is trying to present himself as more of a collaborator.

Debate for State 2006 Election

Who: All five gubernatorial candidates squaring off in the Republican and Democratic Aug. 22 primary election.

What: Two 90-minute debates.

When: Republican primary debate, Aug. 17.; Democratic primary debate, Aug. 18.

Where: KTOO-TV studio; 40 seats, subject to lottery (stay tuned for lottery announcement on public radio).

Live broadcast: Alaska One, Gavel to Gavel, ARCS, and all Alaska Public Radio Network radio stations.

Sponsors: Anchorage Daily News and Alaska Public Television.

James Young, with Wells Fargo, said the two men seem to take different paths "to arrive at the same location" on issues.

"Both of them are very persuasive in the way they express their opinions," Young said. "I'm still open."

Hayden Garrison, also of Juneau, said he approves of Murkowski's track record but he likes Binkley's approach.

"I think I'm going with Binkley," he said.

At one point in the debate, Murkowski and Binkley became mired in a repetitive "No, you didn't" and "Yes, I did," interchange. The short-lived interchange centered on Gov. Frank Murkowski's accusation that Binkley had not read the Alaska Stranded Gas Development Act.

Moderator Murray Walsh, executive director of the Southeast Conference, quickly took the reins to change the subject from the gas line to a hot local issue: Southeast Alaska transportation projects.

Both Binkley and Murkowski said they support a road along Lynn Canal, linking Juneau to a ferry terminal at the Katzehin River.

Binkley said he supports a second bridge to North Douglas across Gastineau Channel.

Murkowski said he wants to dredge Gastineau Channel and route a second crossing of the channel toward a proposed North Douglas golf course. The governor complained the bridge proposal had been held up during the Knowles administration by concerns about crossing "a crick."

Regarding Southeast Alaska's marine highways, Binkley also said "We need to take the politics out of the ferry system."

Murkowski didn't respond directly to Binkley's comment but he pointed out that the state spends $90 million on the ferry system from the general fund, and $70 million on highways, airports and other maintenance needs.

"Clearly the ferry system is a high priority," Murkowski said. But "roads are obviously the reality of opening up the country ... we are developing roads where we can," he said.

One Juneau businessman, Dan Johnson, told Murkowski that he and his wife are excited the governor is seeking another term, but asked how he would get his policies "out to the general public."

In his response, Murkowski blamed reporters for not paying enough attention to his administration's press releases. The governor said he suspected many of his press releases end up in the trash bin.

Johnson, owner of Juneau's Competitive Edge Office Systems, asked Binkley if he has the same ability that Murkowski does to forge "back-room deals."

Earlier during the debate, Binkley criticized Murkowski for being too secretive in his deal-making with oil companies on the North Slope gas pipeline. That comment is what triggered Murkowski's accusation that Binkley had not read the stranded gas act.

In response to Johnson's question, Binkley noted he has plenty of business experience. As a past chairman of the board for the Alaska Railroad Corp., he led an operation with roughly 750 employees and five unions, he said.

"I know how to make business deals and how to communicate with people," Binkley concluded.

The candidates will debate again in Juneau on Aug. 17.

• Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at

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