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Republican political heavyweights battle for lt. governor spot

Posted: Wednesday, August 14, 2002

The Republican primary battle for lieutenant governor is one of the hottest races in the Aug. 27 primary election.

U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski's decision to run for governor last October sent several GOP gubernatorial hopefuls into the lieutenant governor's race.

The five candidates include former House Speaker Gail Phillips, Senate Majority Leader Loren Leman, 18-year legislative veteran Robin Taylor and Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin. Political newcomer Paul Wieler also is running but has not attended candidate forums or raised funds.

Campaign contribution reports released in July show Leman at the top of the list, having raised $163,500, Phillips with $132,000, Taylor with $108,000, and Palin with $38,000. Early polls show Leman with a slight lead in the race and a large number of undecided voters.

Details about the candidates include:

• Loren Leman, a 14-year member of the Legislature from Anchorage and Senate majority leader, proposes capping state spending, drawing from the earnings of the permanent fund and pushing for development of oil and gas resources to address the state's $1 billion fiscal gap.

Though some analysts have projected that the state's Constitutional Budget Reserve, which has been tapped in previous years to make up for the state's revenue shortfall, will run out by 2004, Leman said it may last longer.

"It will probably be more like mid-2005 and probably a year beyond that," he said. "But that doesn't take away the seriousness of the situation."

Leman said he prefers a statewide sales tax over one on personal income, and suggests selling more state land to private industries to help generate revenue for the state.

He wants more accountability in the public education system through performance testing of teachers and students, and would like to see unorganized areas across the state contribute the cost of education.

• Gail Phillips of Homer has served on the Homer City Council and the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly and spent 10 years in the House of Representatives - four years as speaker and two as majority leader.

Phillips proposes tapping the excess earnings reserve generated by oil revenue to pay for state government.

She also would push to implement a biennial budget to cut the cost of reworking the state spending plan on a yearly basis.

"It will save millions of dollars in cash and thousands of hours in productivity," Phillips said.

She supports the establishment of regional learning centers to save education dollars and increase education opportunities for rural Alaskans, and would work to establish a $100 head tax to pay education costs.

A strong proponent of building new roads, Phillips said more construction would help establish the infrastructure to open new areas of the state for development.

Noting she is the only candidate who has served as House speaker or Senate president, Phillips said she is prepared to bring lawmakers and the administration together to circumvent the gridlock that was seen in the most recent session.

• Robin Taylor, a former District Court judge and 18-year member of the Legislature from Wrangell, touted his resume as a longtime Republican, noting he's served as minority and majority leader.

Taylor listed his role in rewriting the education funding formula and creation of insurance pooling mechanisms for school districts and municipalities as two of his crown achievements.

"This has saved hundreds of millions of dollars," since the pooling mechanism went into place in 1986, Taylor said.

The only long-term solution to solving the state's fiscal problem, he said, is to rely on state land and resources. As lieutenant governor, he would push for cuts to state government, privatization of some government services and development of resources. He refers to the plan as CPR, the acronym commonly known for cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

He said the cuts and consolidations he would implement were too detailed to explain in an interview, but added, "It just takes courage to carry those out."

Taylor said he's been a "staunch protector of the permanent fund," noting he has never voted to tap into the fund's earnings.

"I'm the only one running who has a consistent voting record of always defending the permanent fund," he said.

• Two-term mayor of Wasilla Sarah Palin is no stranger to running as the underdog. She said she faced the same challenges in 1996 when she defeated nine-year incumbent John Stein for the mayor's office in Wasilla.

"There was a lot of talk about the fact that I didn't have years of experience," Palin said. "Leadership shouldn't be based on years of public experience - it should be based on vision and example."

Palin served two terms on the Wasilla City Council before becoming mayor.

If elected, Palin said she would use the same strategy in helping solve the state's problems as she has as mayor. State spending needs to be reduced before imposing new taxes, she said.

Palin supports hiring freezes and spending reductions in virtually all departments except public safety. She also supports cutting the cost of holding primary elections, letting the parties handle the cost of selecting candidates instead.

As mayor of Wasilla, Palin has played a role in lowering the property tax mill levy and eliminating personal property taxes, small business inventory taxes and business license renewal fees. She said this has fueled economic growth. This flow of new families and businesses coming to the area has tripled the city's sales tax revenue, she said.

Though some taxes have been lowered or eliminated, Palin said opponent Taylor has accused her of raising taxes. A half-cent bond measure approved by voters in Wasilla last month to build a sports arena will increase the sales tax there by about 25 percent, Palin said.

"He said 'Sarah can afford to reduce taxes because she increased the sales tax by 30 percent,' " Palin said. "His character is showing when he does such a thing."

She said Taylor fears that she is siphoning votes in his campaign.

In response, Taylor called Palin a champion of taxes, noting that he is not a "tax and spend liberal."

• Paul Wieler, a 57-year-old Anchorage man, is running the campaign with his twin brother, Eric, who is running for governor.

"We love the state but we don't like what the federal government is doing up here," Wieler said.

Wieler said environmental regulations imposed by the federal government have hurt smaller businesses trying to the develop the state's resources.

He said this personally affected his family's Kantishna mining claims in Denali State Park.

"Regulations for large corporations shouldn't apply to mom-and-pop businesses," he said.

Wieler said environmentalists are "part of a religious cult that worships mother Earth," and that they should not be given the right to sue the state or federal government.

All the candidates but Palin voiced clear opposition to the November ballot measure that would move legislative sessions to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. Palin was quoted by KTOO-TV last September saying she supports moving the session, but has said in recent months that she does not have a position on the matter.

Phillips said the session move and capital move are going to be issues for Juneau until a road is built connecting the city to the rest of the highway system.

Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at timothyi@juneauempire.com.



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