Race unshaken after Kerttulla wins triple his votes

Posted: Wednesday, August 23, 2000

Now Juneau's only legislative contest can begin in earnest.

Tuesday's primary election, although it didn't weed out any candidates, kicked the contest for the House seat covering downtown, Douglas and Lemon Creek into a higher gear.

Rep. Beth Kerttula, a freshman Democrat, far out-polled Republican challenger Mike Race, a real estate franchise owner who ran a last-minute write-in campaign against her in 1998. They are the only candidates to be listed on either the primary or general election ballots.

Kerttula and Race disagreed on the significance of her 3-1 edge in Tuesday's polling. In the unofficial count, Kerttula got 1,003 votes on the open ballot to Race's 328 on the Republican ballot.

"I feel great about it," Kerttula said. While voter turnout in House District 3 was an anemic 12.2 percent, according to state figures, "It's still like a poll" of committed voters, she said.

Race said he isn't discouraged.

"I think there's a lot of percentage of vote left on the table," he said. "I think this is a good start."

Clive Thomas, political science professor at the University of Alaska Southeast, said the primary tally is probably "pretty indicative" of what's coming this fall. Basically, it's an incumbent's year, given the lack of a crisis in Alaska, Thomas said.

"Oil prices are amazing," he said. "We're going to wipe out the deficit and more here very shortly."

But the candidates said there's a difference between them in the ability to deliver for Juneau.

Kerttula, 44, an attorney who specialized in oil and gas litigation while serving as assistant attorney general, touts her work as part of a special legislative committee studying the BP Amoco and Atlantic Richfield merger. She said it proved her ability to work in a nonpartisan way on big issues. She also pushed unsuccessfully for increased pollution reporting requirements for the cruise ship industry, attracting some Republican support.

Kerttula also sees the possibility for Democrats to form a majority coalition with moderate Republicans who she said have become uncomfortable with some of the majority's hard-line stands on education funding and other issues.

But she added Democrats need to pick up some seats in the Nov. 7 general election in order to make that coalition feasible. Republicans now control the House with 23 seats. Democrats have 13 seats, and there is a break-away faction of four conservative Republicans, one of whom was defeated Tuesday.

"It's nice to be the incumbent and have a record to stand on and show the support I've given the community," Kerttula said. "I've trained well for the job. I love doing it."

Race, 50, said it makes more sense for Juneau to field two Republicans in the House, rather than splitting the seats between the two major parties.

With Kerttula working from inside the minority, "I didn't see the high school on the short list" for capital projects, he said.

Rep. Bill Hudson, the Republican who represents the Mendenhall Valley and Auke Bay, could be speaker of the House some day, and he could use another Republican to help him look out for Juneau's interests, Race said. Hudson, who is not being challenged for re-election, got 396 votes Tuesday.

For now, those party-alignment themes loom larger than specific issues in the District 3 race.

While Race supports a road out of Juneau, Kerttula said there is no way the project can go forward during the Knowles administration. Instead, she wants to see better funding for the ferry system and not just the new fast ferries favored by the governor.

Race said he has spent about $10,000 so far and hopes to keep the total for the campaign under $50,000. Kerttula said she's at about $27,000 so far and hopes to spend no more than $60,000, which would be slightly less than half of her campaign expenses in 1998, when she defeated Rosemary Hagevig in a winner-takes-all Democratic primary.

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