The Green Party of Alaska lost its candidate for governor today.
Party officials said Native and environmental activist Desa Jacobsson, a former Juneau resident, pulled out of the race to take care of family business. The party's lieutenant governor candidate, Diane Benson, was expected to move up to the top of the ticket.
With 443 of 446 precincts reporting, Jacobsson won 1,239 votes in Tuesday's statewide primary election. Benson won 1,262.
In the 1998 general election, Jacobsson won 6,618 votes, slightly more than the 3 percent needed to keep the Green Party on the ballot for the next election. She announced her intent in February to run for governor again but largely was missing from the campaign trail before Tuesday's primary.
"I need to attend to some family matters that carry far greater importance than any campaign," Jacobsson wrote in a letter released today by the Green Party. She did not elaborate and the party said she would not respond to interview requests.
Party Chairman Steve Cleary said the group respected Jacobsson's decision and had begun the process of replacing her. He said Benson was the likely candidate.
Benson, a Chugiak writer and community activist originally from Sitka, said she was ready to join the race.
"We have our work cut out for us and I'm looking forward to it," she said today.
Jacobsson, who replaced Green Party founder Jim Sykes in the 1998 gubernatorial race, at times drew attention to her causes through confrontation. She held hunger strikes to protest violence against Native women and inaction on subsistence legislation, and was arrested twice during subsistence fishing demonstrations, including one near the Mendenhall Glacier in 1999.
Benson said that although she admired Jacobsson's commitment, she would take a different approach to raising issues.
"I'm my own kind of activist," said the playwright and performing artist. "I've worked with the power of words and I intend to use that power to get the word out."
While running for lieutenant governor, Benson called 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 in a recent interview. "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 said she opposed drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge but supported construction of a natural gas pipeline from the North Slope, as long as the chosen route and overall purpose benefit Alaskans.
Benson said she understood Green Party officials would meet today to make her candidacy official. A new lieutenant governor candidate also must be chosen.
Once approved, Benson will face five other candidates in the governor's race: Republican U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski, Democratic Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, Alaskan Independence Party nominee Don Wright, Libertarian Billy Toien, and Republican Moderate Dawn Mendias. Benson said she expected to visit Juneau at the end of September.
Ed Schoenfeld can be reached at email@example.com.