ANCHORAGE - Democrat Fran Ulmer received the loudest applause Friday when she said, unlike Republican opponent Frank Murkowski, she doesn't pretend to have all the answers.
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Gubernatorial candidates Ulmer and Murkowski volleyed back and forth - with four other candidates weighing in - as they answered questions posed by a panel at the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention.
Other candidates participating were Diane Benson of the Green Party, Libertarian Billy Toien, Don Wright of Alaskan Independence, and Republican Moderate Raymond VinZant Sr.
Ulmer, the crowd favorite, looked to be losing ground when she was asked whether the Division of Family and Youth Services could be "fixed," and responded, "I don't know."
Murkowski jumped on that response and briefly scored points when he said Ulmer's response was "totally unacceptable" because the young were Alaska's most vulnerable citizens.
But Ulmer quickly regained the momentum - and captured the loudest applause - when at the next opportunity she ticked off the numerous villages she's visited during her campaign to hear firsthand what Alaska Natives need most.
"I won't pretend to have all the answers," Ulmer said.
During the forum, the candidates outlined their positions on a variety of issues, including education funding, subsistence rights, a natural gas pipeline from the North Slope, rural energy costs, and tribal sovereignty.
Ulmer's responses were frequently greeted with strong applause despite the moderator's repeated suggestions that people refrain from clapping.
Murkowski received the strongest applause when he said if elected he would make sure a road is built from King Cove to Cold Bay.
"As your governor, I will build that road, make no mistake about it," he said pounding the table for emphasis.
Benson said Ulmer and Murkowski are too aligned with big business and encouraged voters to "do something else" on Nov. 5.
Vinzant said if he was elected he would cut the state budget. And Toien said he would grow the economy, not the government.
"Government dependency is like a narcotic," Toien said.
Wright vowed to "stand up for all Alaskans."
Ulmer received strong applause when she said she fully supported Gov. Tony Knowles' decision not to appeal the Katie John lawsuit to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"It was a good day for subsistence," Ulmer said.
Murkowski said the only thing accomplished by backing off of the Katie John decision was that state rights were weakened.
The case, which came up several times during the forum, stripped the state of its authority over subsistence fishing on many Alaska rivers.
"I'm very disappointed that it happened," Murkowski said.
Murkowski and Ulmer said they favor amending the state constitution to give rural residents a fish and wildlife priority over other Alaskans.