HOMER Former House Speaker Gail Phillips announced today that she wants to be Alaska's next governor. But the Homer Republican will drop out and instead run for lieutenant governor if U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski steps into the race.
Murkowski, considered the GOP front-runner, has not yet announced whether he will run. Nor has Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, considered the Democratic front-runner.
Phillips, 57, has spent most of the past 20 years in public office, including stints on the Homer City Council and Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, followed by 10 years in the Alaska Legislature. Having grown up in the Nome area and lived all over the state, she said she has a good idea of what Alaska needs from its leadership in the 21st century.
"I believe in our haste and progress in developing from a territory to a state that we have neglected our core values in Alaska" caring for one another, and keeping up a can-do attitude, Phillips said.
"We can do anything we set our minds to," she added, including overcoming the subsistence impasse, patching up poor rural-urban relations and resolving long-term financial problems.
Her highest priorities, she said, would be to ensure Alaskans' safety, and "uniting Alaska's cultures and communities."
Phillips said she would support a combination of amending the Alaska Constitution and the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, or ANILCA, to get the federal government out of subsistence management.
She also supports a long-range financial plan to bridge the fiscal gap between state expenses and revenues, but said her plan is forthcoming.
While several people have expressed interest in running in the Republican gubernatorial primary, only Phillips and Wayne Anthony Ross of Anchorage have filed.
Murkowski, whose fourth term isn't up until 2004, has said he's "leaning" toward the governor's race. In August, he said he was waiting for then-imminent Senate action on drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which already had been approved by the House.
Even though the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have muddied the congressional timetable, ANWR remains the key for making an announcement about the race, said Murkowski spokesman Chuck Kleeschulte today. "Nothing has really changed since August."
If Murkowski runs, Phillips said she would bow out of the race and seek the lieutenant governor's position.
If not, Alaska could see two women running for the state's highest office.
Ulmer, lieutenant governor for seven years, said Murkowski's decision, or anyone else's, won't determine whether she runs.
"I will make a statement about that race sometime before the end of the year," she said today. "It certainly is something I have given active consideration to."
But as part of Gov. Tony Knowles' "disaster cabinet," coordinating state responses to the terrorist attacks, Ulmer said now is not the time to ponder her political future.
Phillips said she would look forward to a race against Ulmer, if both ran and won their parties' primaries.
"It would completely eliminate gender as an issue." Phillips said she and Ulmer are good friends, although philosophically poles apart. "People would have a wonderful choice," she said.
Ulmer, a former Juneau legislator and mayor, was House minority leader in 1993-94, when Phillips was majority leader.
"I like Gail. We worked well together," Ulmer said. "I respect Gail, and I think she'll run a good campaign."
Another potential candidate, Republican Sen. Robin Taylor of Wrangell, said he will make a decision on the race by mid-January.
"There's more important things to be addressing right now," said Taylor, who finished second in the 1998 Republican primary and went on to run a write-in campaign in the general election.
Joel Gay is managing editor of The Homer News. Empire reporter Bill McAllister contributed to this article.