Costly race shaping up in Southeast

State Sen. Robin Taylor targeted by fellow Republican Bill Privett in state's most expensive primary race

Posted: Sunday, August 13, 2000

Bill Privett's attempt to defeat state Sen. Robin Taylor is shaping up to be the most expensive primary election campaign in the state.

Privett, the former Wrangell mayor, is spending more than $100,000 trying to beat Taylor for the Republican nomination to the Senate District A seat. The district includes Wrangell, Ketchikan, Sitka and Petersburg.

The winner of the Aug. 22 primary will face Democrat Greg Middag of Ketchikan in the November general election. Middag unsuccessfully challenged Taylor for the seat four years ago.

Although some general election battles could be more expensive, Anchorage pollster Marc Hellenthal said there aren't that many hotly contested primary races and the money going into the District A primary exceeds any other race.

``Nobody's close to that,'' he said. ``It is a lot of money.''

Taylor's most recent campaign finance report, dated July 23, shows he has raised $36,000. He said he expects to spend no more than $40,000 on the primary.

Anger over Taylor's vote on a proposed subsistence constitutional amendment appears to be driving much of the funding for Privett's campaign. Taylor was among eight senators who blocked passage of a measure that would have let Alaska voters decide whether to change the state's constitution to allow rural residents to have a preference over other residents for subsistence fishing and hunting.

The constitutional change was intended to allow the state to come into compliance with a federal law, thus averting a federal takeover of Alaska fisheries in waters that run over federal lands.

Privett's been endorsed by fishing groups, including the statewide United Fishermen of Alaska, and has received numerous contributions from people who list their occupations as fishing or fish processing. He's also received support from Bob Penney, an Anchorage sportfishing advocate.

``It's a high priority of mine to allow Alaskans to vote on that issue,'' Privett said. Fishermen are supporting his campaign because they fear a federal takeover of subsistence fishing will gradually result in fewer resources allocated to commercial and sport fisheries, he said.

Taylor defends his subsistence vote.

``The people of Ketchikan did not elect me to make them second-class citizens,'' he said. That's what a rural preference would do, he said, because people in rural areas would have greater access to resources than those in urban areas such as Ketchikan.

Also, he said, the federal law allows cash sales of subsistence-caught fish, which he said could bring about a shutdown of commercial and sport fisheries.

Privett and Taylor agree subsistence is not the only issue in the race. Taylor said it ranked about fifth when voters were polled about their concerns. Jobs, the economy, education, transportation and protecting the permanent fund ranked higher, he said.

Education funding is a big issue, Privett agreed, and he said school funding has not kept pace with inflation during Taylor's 16 years in office.

Taylor doesn't dispute that, but said schools in his district benefited from a 1998 rewrite of the state education funding formula.

Privett has loaned $50,000 of his own money to the campaign. He said he has to spend a lot to overcome Taylor's name recognition advantage. ``Robin is very well-known throughout the district, good, bad or indifferent,'' he said.

Taylor has served eight years in the House and eight years in the Senate.

Despite being outspent by his challenger, Hellenthal said polling he did a couple of months ago showed Taylor leading Privett. Hellenthal is not working for either campaign; his poll was done for another party, he said.

Privett's campaign has featured full-page newspaper advertisements with Taylor's head on Napoleon's body and on Henry VIII's body. The ads accuse Taylor of arrogance and letting ``his ego get out of control.''

Taylor said such negative campaigning is ``juvenile.'' He's taken out ads attacking Privett's negative approach.

Whoever wins, the primary battle should help Democrat Middag in the general election, pollster Hellenthal said, because a great deal of someone else's money already will have been spent in negative campaigning against the Republican opponent.

Hellenthal said the fact the Republican primary is closed this year to voters registered with other parties gives Taylor an advantage, because more of Privett's support is likely coming from non-Republicans who might have to change their registration to vote in the primary.

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