Murkowski, Binkley see support from big industry

Posted: Sunday, August 13, 2006

Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin may be in the lead for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, according to several polls, but that hasn't stopped major industries from spending thousands of dollars to keep her opponents in the race.

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Mining and oil executives are opening their wallets to try to get Gov. Frank Murkowski re-elected, while the transportation and tourism industries are fattening former state legislator John Binkley's war chest, according to reports from the Alaska Public Offices Commission.

Voters will select their choice for Republican nominee in the state primary election Aug. 22.

Many of Palin's contributions are as little as $11 from senior citizens and others who may not be placed in an industry but still want to help, said Frank Bailey, campaign coordinator for Palin.

"One of the things that appeals to voters is that we don't have a special-interest bloc backing our party," Bailey said.

As of July 24, the last deadline to file APOC reports, Murkowski had raised $260,708 in campaign contributions. Palin had brought in $295,047. Binkley had garnered $1,023,967.

ConocoPhillips and BP executives, plus executives from the resource development company VECO, were some of the oil-industry contributors to the governor's campaign. From the mining industry, supporters included Dennis Wheeler, CEO of Coeur d'Alene Mines, which owns Juneau's Kensington Mine, and Steve Borrell, executive director of the Alaska Miners Association.

The governor has been a strong advocate for opening mines across the state and has been criticized for being too soft on the oil industry, at the expense of the state, when lobbying for a new oil tax rate and negotiating a gas pipeline contract. Murkowski pushed for a 20 percent oil tax rate, the lowest suggested percentage. Lawmakers set a base tax rate of 22.5 percent of companies' profits in legislation that passed Thursday.

As a riverboat captain in Fairbanks and former chairman of the Alaska Railroad Corp., Binkley has drawn support from business leaders in the transportation and tourism industries. Binkley's contributors from those industries include Kirk Lanterman, chairman of cruise ship operator Holland America; Henry Springer, executive director of the Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority; and Ron Peck, director of the Alaska Travel Association.

"I think a lot of us have gotten to know John and have the highest respect for him," said Bob Jacobsen, president of local airline Wings of Alaska and a Binkley supporter.

Juneau residents who contributed to Binkley's campaign include Republican Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch; Juneau Economic Development Council Executive Director Lance Miller; Sara Walsh, wife of Murray Walsh, executive director of Southeast Conference; Juneau Empire columnist Elton Engstrom and contractor Errol Champion.

Many of the Juneau residents donating money to Murkowski were his commissioners, Chief of Staff Jim Clark and various others in his administration.

Bailey said Palin hopes to gain more Juneau supporters when she comes to the capital Thursday for a radio debate.

National pollster Rasmussen Reports on Tuesday released a poll that shows Palin in the lead with 43 percent, Binkley with 30 percent and Murkowski with 17 percent.

Only 27 percent view Murkowski favorably. The governor is viewed unfavorably by 72 percent and "very" unfavorably by 49 percent, according to the pollster.

Murkowski's drop in popularity has been attributed to his appointment of his daughter to his U.S. Senate seat, cutting the longevity bonus program that sent seniors checks every year, the purchase of a new jet and pushing a new retirement program for state employees that was unpopular with teachers and labor unions.

Michelle Delaney, communications coordinator for the Murkowski campaign, said momentum has been building in her office since the governor said last week he wanted thorough investigations into BP's shutdown of the oil pipeline in Prudhoe Bay.

Delaney said she has not conducted polls since the shutdown began on Aug. 6, but she expects Murkowski to see a bump in popularity.

"I don't think the state wants to fire its CEO during one of its most crucial times," she said.

As in the 2002 race, so far the Republican candidates have not appeared to seek support from the far right, said Carl Shepro, University of Alaska Anchorage political science professor.

Going after support from the far right helped Lisa Murkowski defeat Tony Knowles in the 2004 U.S. Senate race, Shepro said. Her father may need that political segment to get the Republican nomination this year, he added.

Many election watchers are saying this is one of the closest Republican primaries in state history.

House Majority Leader John Coghill said he hasn't made up his mind yet, though he said he was leaning towards Binkley because of his experience in the Legislature. But he also likes Palin's politics and that she's a fiscal conservative, moral conservative and strong advocate for states' rights, he said.

"It seems like people are already divided into camps. The question is, can they get back together after the primary?" Coghill said.

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



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