Before the statewide primary in August the Alaskan Independence Party said it would "disavow" gubernatorial candidate Don Wright if he won because he refused to meet with party officials or sign the party platform.
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Since Wright won, the AIP's official statement on the candidate is "No comment."
Wright, a former president of the Alaska Federation of Natives, took almost 35 percent of the vote in a six-candidate race. He beat runner-up Nels Anderson by more than 7 percentage points and third-place finisher John Wayne Glotfelty by more than 17 percentage points.
Wright, 72, who helped negotiate the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, is retired and lives in Fairbanks.
He said he won't sign the party platform because the AIP has changed its bylaws since the party was formed and does not make decisions by consensus but through a select group of party officials.
"They've changed it all around to make it political-party dominant, without the voice of the people," Wright said. "It's the same with the Democrats, the Republicans and the Green Party ... that goes for every other organization whether it's a church or a chamber of commerce."
Wright is making his second run for governor on the AIP ticket. In 1978 he captured about 2.6 percent of the general election vote with party founder Joe Vogler as his lieutenant governor running mate. Party officials contend Wright is not committed to the party, as he also has run for office as a Democrat and a Republican.
Formed in the 1970s, the AIP originally advocated making Alaska an independent nation. Today, the party platform, among other things, calls for a constitutional amendment prohibiting property taxes, the transfer of public lands from the federal government to the state and strong support for the right to keep and bear arms.
Gerald McBeath, head of the Political Science Department at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said the AIP never has been a mass-membership party and that its influence largely relies on candidate name recognition.
In 1986, Vogler won 5 percent of the vote in his run for governor; Walter Hickel won the gubernatorial election in 1990 for the AIP with about 40 percent of the vote after switching from the GOP; and in 1994 former Republican Jack Coghill took 13 percent of the vote.
McBeath said since Vogler's death in 1993 the party has failed to produce a candidate with the charisma or personality needed to win an election.
With a party dynamic largely reliant on the popularity of its candidates paired with the new closed primary system, the AIP has lost more than 1,100 members since the beginning of the year. The party has 18,118 registered members compared to 19,250 in January 2002.
Larry Wood, AIP vice chairman and candidate for House District 16, said having Wright as a gubernatorial candidate has hurt the party's credibility.
"I go door to door campaigning and when people ask me about our candidate for governor, I have to say, 'no comment,' " Wood said.
AIP Chairman Mark Chryson declined comment on Wright, but said the party is happy with the six AIP candidates running for the Legislature. Chryson said he is optimistic the AIP will be able to elect party candidates to two or three seats in the Legislature. The AIP also supports a ballot measure to move the Legislature from Juneau to Southcentral Alaska.
Not everyone agrees with everything on the party platform, Chryson said, but he noted the AIP does expect candidates to meet with party officials.
Wood added signing the party platform is a major requirement.
"If they don't sign it, we don't sign on with them," he said.
Wood said meeting with the party and adhering to its principals are necessary to maintain party discipline. He said the party plans to discuss how candidates are chosen this spring at the AIP's statewide convention.
"It is our intent to prevent any candidate who does not follow the party's rules from running, and we will take them to court if necessary," he said.
In his own opinion, Wood said, gubernatorial primary runners-up Glotfelty, a retired U.S. Army sergeant and party vice chairman, and Anderson, a former Democratic state lawmaker, were credible candidates and he was "very disappointed" in the outcome of the primary.
He said if Wright had concerns he should have attended the party's convention in April. Wood noted Anderson signed the party platform with some reservations but committed to work within the party to address his concerns.
One of the sources of friction between Wright and the AIP is his support for a rural preference in subsistence hunting and fishing.
Calling the AIP's membership "a bunch of Johnny-come-latelies," Wright said subsistence should be open to everyone who needs it.
"If they got the money to go to the store to buy it they should do it," Wright said. "If they don't have the money and can't get to a store, the should get (subsistence resources.)"
Wright said he will continue to run for elected office until victory is his.
"I'll run until I die," he said.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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