Primary could shake up state's legislative makeup

Posted: Thursday, August 17, 2006

JUNEAU - Only six state lawmakers opted not to run for office this year, even so the Alaska Legislature could be a very different animal next session.

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The Aug. 22 primary will whittle down a field of 121 candidates, many jostling for a place in the November general election. Fifty of 60 legislative seats are open, though nine representatives and one senator are unopposed.

Most of the action is in the House where opportunities for newcomers abound.

Republicans Lesil McGuire and Norm Rokeberg are leaving their House seats and vying for a chance at the South Anchorage Senate seat being vacated by Senate President Ben Stevens.

Two more veteran lawmakers, Eric Croft and Ethan Berkowitz, are moving on as well. The Anchorage Democrats are seeking their party's nominations for governor and lieutenant governor respectively.

Meanwhile, nine representatives, of whom eight are Republicans, face primary challenges and some could be vulnerable despite the much vaunted power of incumbency.

"I think this will be a tight race," said Rep. Pete Kott, R-Eagle River, of his own re-election bid. He has met with an aggressive primary challenge from three-term Anchorage Assembly member Anna Fairclough.

The seven-term incumbent and former House speaker ran afoul of his party in 2004 when he aligned with Democrats and some Republicans in a failed attempt to wrest control of the House from John Harris, R-Valdez.

Kott says it's no longer an issue but Fairclough doesn't hesitate to bring it up.

"We both have leadership skills and we both bring a conservative aspect but I question the coup and the character involved," she said.

Kott says he entered the campaign season at a disadvantage after Gov. Frank Murkowski twice called lawmakers into special session in Juneau this summer to consider oil taxes and a natural gas pipeline.

That means he has had to cram what is usually six or seven weeks of door-knocking into 10 days, he said. As of late July, he was trailing well behind his opponent in fundraising.

"Everyone else has been out there campaigning for months and since we were locked up (in legislative session) with very little chance of parole, it was hard to get going," he said.

Kott isn't the only incumbent facing a strong primary challenge from an opponent with name recognition.

Former Anchorage Assembly member Dan Kendall is hoping to unseat Rep. Nancy Dahlstrom, R-Anchorage, in a district that represents Elmendorf Air Base and Fort Richardson.

In Fairbanks, Republican Rep. Mike Kelly is up against former middle-school principal and contractor Michael Behner.

Bush Alaska is seeing its share of drama as well as two elderly lawmakers face off against younger challengers with political savvy.

Longtime legislator Carl Moses, D-Unalaska, is facing his former aide, Bryce Edgmon, who now heads the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp.

In Southeast, Rep. Jim Elkins, R-Ketchikan, who is battling liver cancer, is toe to toe with Kyle Johansen, a lobbyist for the city and former legislative aide.

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