Lt. governor's contest attracts Alaska activists

Democratic, Green, Libertarian, Alaskan Independence party candidates unopposed

Posted: Thursday, August 15, 2002

Ernie Hall heads groups addressing state budget problems. Diane Benson writes about Native civil rights struggles. Al Anders pushes for legalizing marijuana. Daniel DeNardo alleges fraud in the student loan system.

Beyond their activism, what they have in common is their desire to be Alaska's lieutenant governor, who oversees elections and works with the governor.

None face opposition from within their party in the Aug. 27 primary. Hall is a Democrat, Benson a Green, Anders a Libertarian, and DeNardo an Alaskan Independence member.

According to reports filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission, Hall is the only one of the four to raise substantial campaign money. He brought in about $55,000, while Benson raised about $2,500, Anders $28 and DeNardo none.

Here are some details about the candidates:

• Ernie Hall, Democrat: Hall, in his first run for statewide office, is president of Anchorage-based Alaska Furniture Manufacturers, his family's business. He's served on the state Board of Education and chaired Alaskans United, which ran ads last session urging lawmakers to find a solution to the state's nearly $1 billion gap between revenues and spending. He also chaired Alaskans United Against the Cap, which fought the unsuccessful statewide property tax cap initiative in 2000.

His main campaign themes include balancing the budget, expanding the economy and improving education. He's concerned the state has invested poorly in economic development efforts.

"If we're going to give a $1 million incentive to open up a company, we have to ask how long will it take for that company to repay those dollars," he said. "That doesn't happen in Alaska."

He supports economic development projects that would bring a return to the state. And part of that return could be an income or sales tax, which could capture part of out-of-state workers' income. He said such a tax is inevitable as the oil runs out.

"Even if we manage to get the oil companies to continue to do enhancement up on the North Slope, we know it's going to continue to decline," Hall said. "You've got to find another source of sustainable revenue."

He supports developing a natural gas line from the North Slope and tapping Alaska Permanent Fund earnings, but not the fund itself, as ways to fill the budget gap. And while he would like government to be more efficient, Hall doesn't back major cuts in programs or services.

"I don't see any programs where I'd say, 'Yeah, let's get rid of that.' "

Hall supports continued development of the state's education system to "create a well-educated work force, keeping our brightest and best in Alaska." And he wants the Legislature to put a subsistence constitutional amendment on the ballot.

He opposes the measure on the November ballot that would move the Legislature from Juneau to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough or Anchorage. In addition to being a waste of money, he said it's a bad idea to separate lawmakers from the rest of the capital.

• Diane Benson, Green Party: Benson, a Chugiak resident originally from Sitka, is a writer, actor and community activist involved in Native and other issues. She points to her recent play, "My Spirit Raised Its Hands," about Juneau Tlingit civil rights activist Elizabeth Peratrovich, as an example of an effort to prompt public discussion about racism.

She has been a film and television performer, run a talent agency and worked as an artist in Alaska schools.

In her campaign, she is calling for sustainable resource development and economic diversification by creating businesses that add value to state resources.

"The tendency now is to go after big corporations, big business-type industry," she said. "And yet we can run tourism in this state instead of having all these outside industries setting up their hotels, their bus services and so on."

Benson supports construction of the natural gas line, as long as the chosen route and overall purpose benefits Alaskans. She opposes some economic development plans, such as privatization of prisons.

"A reliance on the incarceration of citizens as a way to sustain an economy is an abomination," she said.

Benson also stresses the need for environmental protections and construction of water and sewer systems in Bush Alaska.

She said the state can help lessen its budget deficit by collecting more revenue from businesses and out-of-state workers. And while a graduated income tax is worth considering, she said it should not put the burden on middle- and low-income Alaskans, as some proposals have. Another possibility would be a summer-only sales tax.

Subsistence, she said, should never have become an issue because it involves such a small part of the resources. However, she said she would reluctantly support a rural-preference constitutional amendment and agrees it should be put on the ballot.

Benson said she opposes the legislative move ballot issue as unnecessary and expensive.

"If we really wanted more access maybe we'd be better off building a road to Juneau," she said.

• Al Anders, Libertarian Party: Anders, an Anchorage-based marijuana legalization activist, couldn't be reached for this article. His listed phone number is not in service and messages sent to his listed e-mail address came back as undeliverable.

Libertarian leaders provided an out-of-state phone number, which was answered by a machine listing his name and the pot-legalization group Nevadans for Responsible Law Enforcement. A message left there was not returned.

Anders was chairman of Free Hemp, which backed a 2000 Alaska initiative doing away with civil and criminal penalties for adults using marijuana or other hemp products. The measure failed on a 3-2 vote.

In interviews before that election, Anders said the measure would remove unneeded criminal penalties.

"We'll save money on law enforcement costs, and the police can fight real crime," he said.

The Libertarian Party platform, as listed on its Web page, calls for smaller government, the elimination of taxes, and an end to welfare programs as well as decriminalization of illegal drugs.

• Daniel DeNardo, Alaskan Independence Party: DeNardo turned down a request for an interview for this article. He did allude to allegations of government corruption similar to those made by others in the AIP.

"I don't think there's another candidate out there that has the information on the court system, the tremendous fraud in the tens of millions of dollars in the student loan system," he said. Loan program officials have denied any wrongdoing.

DeNardo has challenged the state in court several times. In 1990, he sued after state officials denied his claim to five islands north of Siberia some Alaskans say should be part of the United States. He lost after appealing the case to the Alaska Supreme Court.

The AIP's platform calls for abolishment of property taxes, liberalization of initiative procedures, and privatization of government services. The party has approved resolutions supporting moving the Legislature out of Juneau.

Ed Schoenfeld can be reached at eschoenfeld@juneauempire.com.





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