In the Aug. 27 primary, an Anchorage attorney and two political newcomers will find out how they stack up against Frank Murkowski. Lawyer and National Rifle Association director Wayne Anthony Ross and political newcomers Eric Wieler and Brad Snowden are challenging the state's junior U.S. senator in the GOP primary for governor.
Murkowski, a 22-year member of the U.S. Senate, has spent about half of the $946,000 he's raised so far this year in campaign contributions. Ross has raised about $79,000 and neither Wieler nor Snowden are actively raising money.
All four candidates oppose moving legislative sessions from Juneau.
Stating that thousands of jobs have been lost in resource industries in the past eight years, Murkowski said he will push for development of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, increase access to oil and gas resources, restore fisheries, and develop timber and other natural resources.
He opposes implementing statewide taxes, instead proposing cutting inefficiencies in state government and working with the Legislature to address the $1 billion fiscal gap that threatens to exhaust the state's Constitutional Budget Reserve Fund by 2004.
"If we enter into this fiscal crisis with the idea that the only hope is to increase taxes, I think it's a self-defeating mechanism," Murkowski said.
While not disclosing much detail on his fiscal strategy, Murkowski said more development of resources would help slow the fiscal gap.
"If we could increase oil and gas exploration in this state by just 5 percent a year, in about four years we would equalize what we currently anticipate as our needs associated with our current budget," he said. "Let's face it, 80 percent of our revenue comes from oil. That's where you have to focus in to pick up your greatest percentage of revenue."
Murkowski, like Ross, has made public safety a priority in his campaign. He has pledged to provide more training for village public safety officers, expand state prisons and appoint members to the state's Judicial Council who will nominate judges that won't "coddle criminals." Murkowski did not specify which judges he thinks have gone easy on criminals.
Ross, Murkowski's top opponent, is an Anchorage lawyer, 22-year director of the NRA and former assistant attorney general for the state.
It's Ross' second run for the governor's office; he ran in 1998, receiving 16 percent of the vote in the Republican primary.
"A vote for Wayne Ross is a vote for two great Alaskans," he said, in an effort to convince voters Murkowski would be more effective in Washington, D.C., where he can continue to promote state issues such as opening ANWR for oil exploration. "It's absolutely foolish for Murkowski to run for governor and give up that seniority in Congress."
Clive Thomas, a political science professor at the University of Alaska Southeast, said if Republicans don't regain control of the U.S. Senate in November, Murkowski would not necessarily be in a strong position to move legislation.
"He'll be in a stronger position than some people, but he won't be a committee chair," Thomas said.
Upcoming primary coverage
Tuesday's Empire will profile candidates running for governor in the Alaskan Independence, Libertarian, Green and Republican Moderate party primaries. Wednesday's articles will examine lieutenant governor candidates. Coverage of candidates running for the state Legislature and U.S. House and Senate will run Sunday through Thursday, Aug. 22.
Ross, who has criticized Murkowski for not stating firm positions on issues such as the fiscal gap, proposes cutting state spending by $375 million to $500 million. Not going into specifics about what budget cuts he would make, Ross did say three "sacred areas" would not see reductions: law enforcement, education and services for veterans.
He proposes hiring 100 new state troopers, raising teachers' salaries and securing property tax exemptions and other benefits for veterans.
To solve the fiscal gap, Ross said he would push for the creation of an endowment fund made up of all state savings accounts and operate government from the account's earnings. This "super permanent fund," as he calls it, would use permanent fund earnings to pay dividends and balance the state's budget.
Ross estimates that this plan would result in a temporary reduction in dividends, with annual checks ranging from $500 to $750 per person.
He said getting lawmakers to agree on such a plan would be easier with so many seats opening up in the Legislature next year.
"The Legislature has been leaderless," Ross said, noting that he looks forward to working with "new Turks coming in who are willing to grab the reins."
Ross opposes implementing taxes as well as establishing a rural priority for subsistence hunting and fishing. Murkowski has said the state needs a more specific definition of rural.
"A lot of people really don't know," Murkowski said. "There are definitions that suggest the Kenai is rural and yet the state subsistence board has reviewed it on a second review and said that it's not necessarily rural."
Ross' law firm successfully argued the McDowell case before the state Supreme Court in 1988, which gave all Alaskans equal access to fish and game resources. Putting the state in violation of federal subsistence law, the decision prompted the federal government to take control of subsistence on federal lands.
Ross said he would push the state's congressional delegation to take back control of subsistence resources.
"We'll have to go to court if they can't get it done," Ross said, adding that he would appoint a "junkyard dog attorney general" to argue the case.
The other two candidates in the Republican primary, Eric Wieler and Brad Snowden, are running marginal campaigns with little or no budget.
Snowden, a 51-year-old hotel owner in Seward, already has conceded, saying he has abandoned the campaign to focus on priorities at home.
"First things first," Snowden said. "You've got to take care of your home front. Whatever support I may have had I want to throw to Frank Murkowski."
Eric Wieler, a 57-year-old Anchorage resident, is running with his twin brother Paul, who is seeking the Republican lieutenant governor's nomination.
"I don't know what kind of chance I have, but I thought I'd try to get some ideas out there," he said.
Wieler said people are "ticked off" about the way the state is being governed and the federal government's control over business. As an example, Wieler said the federal government took control of Kantishna mine claims in Denali National Park that rightfully belong to his family.
Wieler said he is pro-development and would like to see the state government tighten its belt in the face of a $1 billion budget deficit. He did not give specifics on where he would cut the state budget, noting that he would have to take a look at it first. He opposes taxes and strict environmental regulations.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.