General election features wide range of candidates, issues

Posted: Sunday, October 08, 2000

And now comes the other election.

Following an intense, multi-faceted municipal election this past week, state campaigns are moving to the foreground in public debate.

The Nov. 7 general election ballot includes the presidential and congressional races, all state House seats, some state Senate seats and six ballot measures, including three constitutional amendments and initiatives to cap property taxes and legalize marijuana.

Some contests lack the drama of the local election.

For example, Alaska can be expected to back Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush over Democrat Al Gore.

Meanwhile, 28-year Republican congressman Don Young's re-election is "a foregone conclusion," said Gerald McBeath of the political science department of the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Democratic nominee Clifford Greene, a Juneau resident as of this past week, has detailed positions on issues but has only lived in Alaska since May and admits he barely has money to travel. He said he'll give a speech on domestic affairs at 6 p.m. Wednesday in Centennial Hall.

In Juneau, state Rep. Bill Hudson, a Mendenhall Valley Republican, is unopposed.

Southeast Democrats have started talking about the possibility for a majority coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats in the next Legislature, although McBeath said that's mostly wishful thinking.

"The Legislature's going to look pretty much the way it's looked for five, six years," he said.

Clive Thomas, his counterpart at the University of Alaska Southeast, has said the rise in oil prices and the resulting decrease in the state budget deficit makes the election season a favorable one for incumbents.

Rep. Beth Kerttula, the Democratic freshman who represents downtown and Douglas, said she's running on her record, notably in scrutinizing the recent merger of BP Amoco and Atlantic Richfield Co., and on her work ethic.

"I've worked extremely hard not only for the district, but for the whole state," she said. "I focus on facts, not on personalities or on partisan politics."

Realtor Mike Race, the Republican nominee, said it makes more sense for Juneau to have two representatives within the majority caucus in the House.

Elsewhere in Southeast, there is an open House seat and an open Senate seat, due to the retirement of key legislators.

Southeast House seat

Outgoing Sitka Mayor Stan Filler, a Democrat, is running against Republican Peggy Wilson, a Wrangell nurse, for the seat being vacated by Ben Grussendorf of Sitka, a Democrat and former speaker of the House.

Filler, 62, who just finished up three years as mayor, said he has been effective lobbying the state and federal governments for local projects, including a vocational program for wastewater treatment training and a diesel generator to supplement local electrical capacity. He also touts the cleanup of a former pulp mill site and its conversion into an industrial park, attracting a bottling company.

Education funding, both K-12 and university level, is the biggest legislative issue for the House district, Filler said. If necessary, new sources of revenue should be pursued in order to increase the foundation aid formula, he said. "We're kidding ourselves if we think cheaper is better."

Education is also the issue that got Wilson, 55, a former three-term House member in North Carolina, to seek a legislative office in a second state. She said she was "very upset" when the Republican-led Legislature "played around" with a list of priority construction projects for schools in the last legislative session. "I was just frustrated for the people of Southeast."

Filler said he doesn't like to consider the competitive aspect of running for a House seat. "I just want to find a common denominator. I believe in one Alaska for all Alaskans."

Wilson -- who, like Filler, has run a business -- said they don't seem to differ much on issues. "Everybody says he's a wonderful guy."

But her experience in a legislative body and the likelihood she would be part of the House majority puts her in a better position to deliver for the district, she said.

"Iceworm" Senate seat

Rep. Alan Austerman, a Kodiak Republican and businessman, and fisherman and boat builder Tim June, a Haines Democrat, are vying to replace Senate Majority Leader Jerry Mackie of Craig in the sprawling district that jumps across the Gulf of Alaska from Kodiak and snakes its way through small cities and villages in Southeast.

Mackie, now a Republican, started out representing the district as a Democrat after defeating former Democratic Sen. Fred Zharoff in 1996. Austerman said two-thirds of voters in Kodiak aren't affiliated with either party and he's a moderate who would join a Democratic majority, whereas June would not join the Republican majority. June counters there could be a coalition of Democrats and Republicans he would join.

As the incumbent in half of the Senate district, Austerman presumably started the race with higher name identification. But a June supporter, Democratic Rep. Al Kookesh of Angoon, said June is traveling extensively and working hard, following a campaign strategy that was successful more than a decade ago for former Democratic Rep. Peter Goll of Haines.

So far, the flash point has been Austerman's characterization of June as "an environmental extremist." Asked to back it up, Austerman said June supports including the Tongass National Forest in a pending federal policy against building new roads in currently roadless areas of national forests.

But June, who has been active on a variety of water quality issues, said that's not his view. He said he favors repairing faulty culverts that are impeding fish passage before building new roads, but doesn't oppose building them ultimately in order to support "a sustainable timber base."

"We can still log, but we need to do it out of the watersheds," he said. "Personally, I have cut wood out of the Tongass."

June, 47, recently completed a term on the Haines Borough Assembly, which also serves as the school board. He defeated four Democrats in the August primary for the House seat, including Aaron Isaacs Jr. of Klawock and Skagway Mayor John Mielke, neither of whom has endorsed him yet. Isaacs declined comment this week; Mielke said he needs to meet with June before deciding whether to endorse him.

Austerman, 57, first elected in 1994, has been active in funding the Power Cost Equalization program to subsidize electricity in rural areas and backed a long-term fiscal plan using some interest earnings from the Alaska Permanent Fund. June has pledged to protect permanent fund dividends.

Incumbents seek return

Meanwhile, Kookesh, the two-term Democratic House member from Angoon, and Sen. Robin Taylor, a Wrangell Republican who has been in the Legislature for 16 years, appear well-poised for re-election.

Kookesh, chairman of the Sealaska board, faces Haines Borough Assemblyman Terry Pardee, a Vietnam veteran and commander for the local American Legion post.

The incumbent doesn't sense much competition. "I've been to 21 communities since session's been over and I don't think he's traveled at all."

Pardee could not be reached for comment.

Kookesh said education funding is the top priority with constituents throughout the district. He said he's hoping for a less parochial group of Republicans after the election, citing incumbents Lisa Murkowski and Andrew Halcro of Anchorage and John Harris of Valdez as people willing to look out for the needs of the whole state and bridge the urban-rural divide.

Taylor, a gubernatorial candidate in 1998, faced a heavily financed challenge from former Wrangell Mayor Bill Privett in the Republican Senate primary in August. But his general election opponent is Democrat Greg Middag of Ketchikan, who he defeated in 1996. Middag, a teacher, is the guest of honor at a fund-raising reception this morning being held by Juneau Democrats at the Parkshore condominium clubhouse.

"He will take on the important things like subsistence, expanding our fishing industry, and especially education," said Juneau's Democratic senator, Kim Elton. "We need jobs that support families, and Greg is the one to make that happen."

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