After seven years as the state's second in command, Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer is ready for the big chair.
The Democrat announced her bid for governor in a speech to 400 Alaska high school students meeting in Fairbanks on Saturday, putting an end to speculation about her intentions.
Ulmer said she pondered whether to run for many months, and decided to join the race after talking to family and to former Gov. Jay Hammond.
"At some point in your life you realize you are as prepared for the next step as you'll ever be, and that's how I feel," she said in a telephone interview.
"I know a lot about how the system works, how to make it work, about the issues that are really on people's minds," added Ulmer, a former Juneau mayor who served four terms in the state House of Representatives before winning a bid for lieutenant governor in 1994.
Ulmer plans to campaign on strengthening education and the economy and cited her biggest challenge as raising enough money and finding enough time to visit communities statewide.
Her only competitor in the primary so far is Democrat Bruce Lemke, an Anchorage resident who grew up in Southeast and lived in Juneau from 1997-99.
Lemke, 59, ran for governor in 1982 but lost in the primary to former Gov. Bill Sheffield. He also lost a bid for the state House in the late 1980s when he lived in Sitka, where he later lost races for mayor and the City Council.
"It's never bothered me that I've never succeeded" in politics, said Lemke, a retired seasonal logger, construction worker and commercial fisherman who still occasionally crews.
"I think I have some answers to some of the questions that nobody else seems to have answers to," added Lemke, who cites fisheries as his primary issue and believes Alaska's marine ecosystem is in peril because of overfishing by commercial trawlers.
Two Republicans also have filed to run for governor: former state House Speaker Gail Phillips of Homer and Anchorage attorney Wayne Anthony Ross.
But the big question in political circles is whether U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski will make a bid for governor. He was expected to say in September, but he postponed the announcement in August, saying he wanted to focus on a bill to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. He told Anchorage reporters on Friday that he would make his intentions known soon.
Ulmer said she did not weigh the Murkowski factor in her decision to run for governor. However, she does not believe Murkowski will leave the U.S. Capitol in the wake of terrorist attacks on Sept. 11.
"I find it hard to believe Frank Murkowski will leave the U.S. Senate at this time of national emergency," she said. "But for me it's not a function of whether he's running or not. It's a function of whether I want to run, and I do."
Fairbanks resident Don Wright also filed for the seat as a candidate for the Alaskan Independence Party.
The statewide primary is Aug. 27, 2002, and the general election is Nov. 5, 2002.
Kathy Dye can be reached at email@example.com.