Taylor wins costly race

Wrangell senator now up against past challenger

Posted: Wednesday, August 23, 2000

More people voted against Sen. Robin Taylor in Tuesday's primary election than voted for him.

But Taylor, who faced a political challenge backed by more than $100,000, survived the intraparty contest in Senate District A and will face Democrat Greg Middag, who he defeated in 1996.

Taylor, a 16-year legislative veteran from Wrangell and a 1998 gubernatorial candidate, won the Republican primary with 2,289 votes to 1,600 for former Wrangell Mayor Bill Privett. The unofficial count gave the incumbent 58.9 percent of the Republican vote.

On the open ballot, Middag, a high school special education teacher from Ketchikan, was the only candidate. He got 835 votes. Voter turnout in the district, which also includes Sitka and Petersburg, was 21.5 percent.

Between Middag and Privett, 2,435 voters, or about 51.5 percent, wanted someone other than Taylor.

On the Republican ballot, "We've at least knocked him under 60 percent," Privett said Tuesday night. "I would hope that he wouldn't consider this a blanket endorsement."

But Taylor said the only reason there was much of a contest was Privett's financial resources.

Privett, co-owner of Wrangell Oil, said he might have spent as much as $60,000 of his own money, with overall expenditures of about $120,000. His campaign finance report of July 24 showed income of $106,823, including $50,203 from his personal funds. Meanwhile, Taylor had about a third as much campaign income $35,622.

It appeared to be the most expensive primary race in Alaska this year.

"I had a lot of catching up to do," Privett said, noting Taylor's eight years in the Senate and eight in the House.

"I think it was mostly a matter of Railbelt money people wanting to have a puppet in Southeast, and it didn't work," Taylor said. "Southeast isn't for sale. ... There was a lot of love down here, and that's what carried us."

Privett said the emergency regulations for a two-ballot primary might have hurt him by confusing voters and thus holding down turnout.

A major issue in the race was Taylor's vote against putting a constitutional amendment for a rural subsistence priority on the statewide ballot. The Legislature's failure to resolve a conflict between the state constitution and federal law led to the federal takeover last fall of subsistence allocation in waters running through federal lands.

Privett said he had no idea if his primary challenge weakened Taylor for the general election. Taylor said it actually helped.

"I think any time you have a heated primary, it forces you to campaign that much harder much earlier," he said. "As a consequence, actually, I think we're in a better position than if we hadn't had an opponent."

But Middag said: "I think Southeast is definitely ready for a change."

On the subsistence issue, he said only that it needs "an Alaskan solution. He was more expansive about the state budget.

The Republican majority in the Legislature has defined fiscal responsibility as simply cutting the budget, but there needs to be investment in Alaska's natural resource industries, he said. For example, Norway spends $40 million to promote its seafood, but in Alaska, only people in the industry pay for marketing, he said. "That's wrong."

Middag, 51, a Ketchikan resident for 11 years, described himself as a populist.

"I believe we need to work for working people," he said. "I think we should work toward things like consensus."

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