Elton hopes to benefit Juneau with his legislative experience

Posted: Wednesday, October 21, 1998

This is the fourth day of a two-week series of articles on candidates and ballot issues in the Nov. 3 statewide general election.

A year ago, Kim Elton was thinking he might enjoy giving up his seat in the state House of Representatives and returning to the Juneau Assembly. Instead, he's leaving the House to try and fill the state Senate seat Jim Duncan is vacating in his run for U.S. Congress.

Elton, 50, said assembly work was tempting because of the immediate, tangible results local government can produce. When Duncan bowed out, though, Elton said he was worried Juneau's next senator would come to the job without legislative experience.

``To me the thought of a rookie in the state Senate was a pretty compelling reason for me to not let my experience kind of go to waste,'' he said.

Elton, like Duncan, is a Democrat. His Republican opponent is businessman Don Abel Jr., who hasn't held elected office but has worked closely with the Legislature during the 14 years he spent as a University of Alaska regent and as a private advocate for Juneau.

On many issues, the candidates are actually fairly closely aligned. Though they differ on some social causes - Elton opposed legislative action last session to ban late-term abortions and gay marriage, bans Abel supports - the two agree education and fighting the capital move are top priorities.

``I think probably the biggest difference is the teams that we play on,'' Elton said.

At campaign forums, the candidates go back and forth on whether Juneau will be better served with a senator in the Legislature's Republican majority, or whether Republican priorities are at odds with Juneau's needs.

The Republicans have emphasized spending cuts over investments in the future, according to Elton.

``I think it's time that we had a Legislature that talks about what we can do instead of what we can't do,'' he said at a campaign forum on education. ``I think it's time that we changed the legislative culture.''

A former newspaper editor, Elton served on the Juneau Assembly before his two terms as Juneau's downtown-based representative in the state House of Representatives.

He said he learned the ropes in the Legislature when he was director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, seeking to establish a tax on the industry to help fund ASMI's marketing.

``It was a lot of just slogging through a lot of questions, bringing people up to speed on what the fisheries industry meant,'' Elton said. ``That experience at ASMI hasn't been that much different from my experience in the Legislature.''

What it takes to work effectively in the Legislature, according to Elton, is a broad understanding of the issues. He said the partisan nature of the Legislature ``has begun to melt.''

`With most legislators, you can convince them with facts.''

Sen. Jerry Mackie, a Republican from Craig, said he found it takes more than that. Mackie is a former Democrat, and spent four years in the Legislative minority, including a term as House minority leader, before joining the Senate's Republican caucus.

``There's no question that when you're sitting at the table where your decisions are being made that you have an opportunity to be much more effective,'' Mackie said. He said Elton is a hard worker, but would be stifled as a minority Senator.

``Kim can raise an opposing view, and that may make people feel good,'' he said. But, Mackie said, there's no substitute for having an door open to the majority's caucus.

There's more to it than that, in Elton's opinion.

``What matters is, can you meet in the middle and talk about some solutions,'' he said. ``What matters is not just that you've got an open door, but that you've got an open mind.''

That's something Elton doesn't have, according to Chuck Achberger, who lost an assembly race to Elton several years ago. Achberger now lives in Anchorage, and helped ruin John Lindauer's campaign for governor as campaign manager for Robin Taylor by dogging Lindauer with questions about his campaign finances.

Achberger doesn't temper his distaste for Elton, and said his former opponent is anti-business and self-serving.

``He doesn't like public input,'' he said. ``Kim hasn't made any friends in Southeast Alaska, and frankly he doesn't care.''

Gordon Jackson disagrees. President of Kake Tribal Corp. and vice president of ASMI's board, Jackson said he's known Elton for 20 years and said he's worked effectively with him on a number of issues.

``He does his homework and supports the usual good stuff - development, keeping the capital in Juneau - and is always willing to listen, not only to Juneau concerns but to Southeast concerns,'' Jackson said.

According to Jackson, Elton's party affiliation will be an asset, because it aligns him with Gov. Tony Knowles, a fellow Democrat whose re-election looks increasingly likely.

``I think that Abel will go with the Republicans, particularly the folks from Anchorage,'' Jackson said. ``The governor, I believe, would be more powerful if he had the ability to veto some of the crazy legislation that they have on their plate.''

Empire election coverage continues Thursday with a look at Don Abel's run for Juneau's state Senate seat.

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