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On Tuesday, Alaskans ballot in the state primary election. It should attract a large number of voters, at least more than the 17.2 percent who balloted in the 2000 primary election. One reason for the expected higher percentage is because the state has purged its registration roll of people long gone from Alaska. Seven thousand fewer people are registered to vote this year than the 460,000 in 2000.
The other reason for a better percentage voter turnout this year is that Alaskans are electing a new governor - a total new administration - while parts of Alaska, especially Southeast, suffer an economic slump. Even the oil-dependent areas experienced employment cutback in the past two years.
For Southeast, the timber industry is at the lowest level since before World War II when there were a few small mills manufacturing fish boxes and planks for city streets. The price paid fishermen for salmon is almost where it was 40 years ago. Environmentalists are tying up proposed timber sales and battling the opening of mines such as those at Berners Bay. Expect their opposition to renewal of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline permit.
The only economic growth is in tourism, primarily the cruise ship industry. This writer's recent trip on a portion of the Alaska Highway found less traffic than a few years ago. Traffic on Alaska ferries was down 16 percent for passengers and 11 percent for vehicles between 1992 and 1998, the last years for which the state has put figures on its Web site. Lack of figures for years since probably indicates the news is bad.
If Alaskans want to make a difference and turn around the state's direction, turning out to vote for people who will do it is the most effective way.
Voters might be confused in this primary election because they have to vote for candidates only in one party, the one in which they are registered or the one whose ballot they choose at the polls.
But serious and likely voters have indicated by registration during the last month how they will vote.
Total registration climbed 3,111 to 453,252 in that time period. The Republicans gained over all other parties, with 974 more registering in that month for a total of 114,354. The Moderate Republicans gained 24. The Democrats lost 24, down to 71,601. The Alaskan Independence Party lost 448, the Green Party lost 117, the Libertarians lost 178 and all other minor parties lost 121.
The big gain was among those listed as nonpartisan, 906, and undeclared, 2,095. Many of those abandoned the Democrats and lesser parties to maintain the right to pick any ballot on election day, probably the Republican one, if the above trend is any indication.
Greater voter attention comes during the general election race, climaxing on Nov. 5. It's expected that Sen. Frank Murkowski will carry the Republican banner and Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, the Democratic. A fund-raising luncheon for Murkowski in Anchorage recently attracted 600 people, a record turnout for such an event. Travelers around Alaska find as many Ulmer signs as for Murkowski.
The race for governor should center on economic matters. We agree with Ulmer that family, children and education are important. But jobs are needed to take care of families, keep them in Alaska and keep them off welfare. Without jobs, the ambitious people and many talented young Alaskans leave the state, taking students with them.
Most communities are working to improve their economies. Alaska's congressional delegation has been a big help. More help is needed from the state to make some projects workable. For Ketchikan it's the shipyard, the veneer plant, an aquarium, an arts center and completion of the power intertie. Wrangell is proposing a boat yard and building a new museum. Juneau needs $5 million more to assure construction of the NOAA/National Marine fisheries/University of Alaska lab.
Fortunately the state has that in its $25 billion permanent fund, not to spend, but against which to guarantee bonds to build infrastructure, boosting each community.
In Alaska when we vote for governor, we also are voting for fish and game commissioner, environmental conservation commissioner, health and social services commissioner, education commissioner, the transportation commissioner and so forth. All are appointed by the governor as are members of the many state boards. Voting for governor in the primary and in the general elections really means voting for a lot more - the future of Alaska.