Two more jump into race against Rep. Don Young

Candidates include first Republican to challenge senior congressman

Posted: Thursday, October 11, 2007

Former state Rep. Ethan Berkowitz, D-Anchorage, and current state Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Kodiak, both announced Wednesday they are challenging Alaska's U.S. Rep. Don Young in his 2008 re-election bid.

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LeDoux is the first Republican to take the unusual step of challenging an incumbent in the GOP primary. Young, however, has been dogged by allegations of ethical problems, and a shift in power in Congress had taken away the committee chairmanships with which he once wielded much influence.

Berkowitz joins an increasingly crowded field in the Democratic primary, facing off against both Diane Benson, last year's party standard bearer, and former Juneau resident Jake Metcalfe, who left his position as statewide party chairman to run.

LeDoux is in her second term as a member of the House of Representatives, where she serves as co-chair of the House Community & Regional Affairs Committee. She's a former mayor of Kodiak Island Borough.

LeDoux said her goal in challenging Young was to improve Alaska's representation in Washington.

"I think that this state is getting tired of the terribly partisan, somewhat arrogant manner that Mr. Young has exemplified over the years," she said. "I know I, for one, am fed up with it."

Young has already said he'll be seeking re-election to a 19th term in Congress. He is the third-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives.

Young's campaign spokesman Steve Dougherty disputed LeDoux's characterization of Young.

"She's entitled to her own opinions," he said. "Congressman Young's record speaks for itself."

LeDoux said Alaska needed a representative who could better advocate for the state by reaching out to others.

"If we are to grow as a state and have some impact in Washington, we've got to have a delegation that is able to work across the aisle," she said.

Dougherty disputed that as well.

"Congressman Young reaches across all party lines," he said.

LeDoux has been strongly independent as an elected official, and in September went public with her criticisms of Sen. John Cowdery, a powerful member of her own party.

She had been one of just a few Republicans to vote against a version of the Petroleum Profits Tax favored by then-Gov. Frank Murkowski and the state's oil producers.

An executive with VECO Corp., Rick Smith, testified in federal court that he'd bribed Cowdery while VECO was pushing for lower oil tax rates, and LeDoux went public with criticism of Cowdery.

She said Cowdery had held one of her bills in the Rules Committee that he chaired because of her stand on the Petroleum Profits Tax.

Also announcing his desire for Young's seat Wednesday was former Rep. Ethan Berkowitz, D-Anchorage. A former House minority leader, Berkowitz ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2006.

Berkowitz said he would announce his intent to run Wednesday, regardless of who the Republican nominee was.

"My campaign is based on running for something, not running against someone," he said.

Berkowitz said he was hoping to set a new, positive tone with his campaign and would avoid negativity.

"We've had too much of that, if you ask me. There's a very corrosive tone in politics," he said.

Last year during the legislative debate over the Petroleum Profits Tax, Berkowitz angrily denounced oil industry influence reaching onto the House floor during the debate.

"This is our floor, our floor," Berkowitz said in an angry speech denouncing phone calls and notes from the gallery that were influencing votes.

Then-state Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, R-Juneau, denied that was happening.

Earlier this year two VECO executives pleaded guilty to bribing legislators, and Weyhrauch has been indicted and is awaiting trial on similar charges.

In Congress, Berkowitz said he wants to be an advocate for renewable energy and oil and gas development.

"Alaska's energy resources can become part of America's energy security and independence," he said.

He also said he'd work to improve education by questioning standardized testing and be an advocate for better health care.

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