Senate race: Test of travel

Posted: Monday, August 14, 2000

The five Democrats competing for the District C state Senate seat face a difficult race, not because of their opponents, but because the geography of the 600-mile-long district makes campaigning a challenge.

Thats a hard district, said Anchorage pollster Marc Hellenthal.

District C stretches from Metlakatla to Kodiak. Just a two-day campaign stop in each of the 25 communities would require 50 days. The task is so daunting only Tim June and Aaron Isaacs are trying it.

After signing up for the race, June, a Haines fisherman, covered his 40-foot wooden troller with campaign posters and started touring towns in Southeast.

It seems like the only way to cover the Iceworm District, he said from his cell phone in Kake last week. Ive been very happy with it.

So far June has stopped in Haines, Gustavus, Hoonah, Tenakee, Angoon and Kake, talking to almost 200 people a day and passing out fliers. He also flew to Kodiak four times and expects to visit Port Alexander and Craig before the primary. Its been a lonely tour, with scarcely another candidate in sight, June said.

Isaacs of Klawock has been making a similar tour by air, racking up frequent flyer miles. As past Klawock mayor and a former Hammond administration official, hes tackled the campaign the traditional way.

Im one of those old-time, old-style campaigners. I knock on doors and talk to people, Isaacs said today from the Juneau Airport, where he was waiting for his plane to Kodiak. Its pretty expensive.

The time and money involved in touring the district has kept the other three Democrats home. John Mielke made it from his home in Skagway to Kake and Haines, but his job and finances didnt stretch any farther.

Its somewhat frustrating because you feel guilty for not getting out on the road more, but also compelled to do the job youre elected to do, said Mielke, who is Skagways mayor and also chief mechanical officer for White Pass and Yukon Railroad.

Mielke and the other candidates, John Waldron of Yakutat and A. Webster Demmert III of Klawock, are depending on mail, newspapers and phones to get their messages out.

The candidates agree education is one of the top issues and say they would like to improve funding for rural schools. They also back rural preference for subsistence.

Waldron, June, and Mielke all support improvements to the Alaska Marine Highway System, including fast ferries up Lynn Canal instead of a road. Isaacs remains neutral on the question.

None of the Democrats stand out yet in the polls, said Anchorage pollster Hellenthal. They all suffer from a lack of name recognition outside their own communities. Whoever wins the primary Aug. 22 will have an uphill campaign against Kodiaks Alan Austerman, who has served in the state House since 1994.

He has a significant lead right now, Hellenthal said, but it really comes down to who takes the Democratic primary and where they're from really.

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