Four try long-shot chance to be governor

Posted: Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Small parties have played a large role in some of Alaska's gubernatorial elections. But a batch of minor-party candidates isn't expected to make such a splash this year, said one political science professor.

For more Juneau Empire coverage of the November 5 general election, please visit the Juneau Empire Elections Guide.

Republican Frank Murkowski and Democrat Fran Ulmer have monopolized the political energy this year and no small-party candidate appears to have the steam to draw a lot of votes, said Jerry McBeath of the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

"We don't have anybody there who is going to be able to draw 10 percent of the votes. That's why it is going to be, at the most, minimal impact," McBeath said.

Retired machinist Raymond VinZant Sr., who became the Republican Moderate candidate after its original pick dropped out following the August primary, would be happy to get 3 percent of the vote.

"Otherwise, the party falls off the ballot and we have to circulate a bunch of petitions," VinZant said.

VinZant has said he would not raise taxes but instead would look for cuts in state government to address Alaska's fiscal gap. In a recent candidate forum, VinZant said he would look to marketing Alaska salmon in the Lower 48 to help grow the budget.

On the issue of building a road connecting Juneau with the rest of the state, VinZant said he's not sure if the plan would be feasible.

"I don't know if we could really use a road between (Anchorage) and Juneau," VinZant said. "The (marine highway system) on the water doesn't work. Getting to Juneau is a very difficult chore. The airport is terrible. You land and take off against the mountains and you hope and pray the pilot doesn't slip and drop into the water somewhere down there."

Alaska's four minor parties are required to have more than 6,600 registered party members or garner at least 3 percent of the votes cast in this year's gubernatorial race to be a recognized political party named on the ballot.

The Republican Moderate Party and the Green Party each have fewer than 5,000 registered voters, according to the state Division of Elections. A good showing on Nov. 5 would allow them to retain ballot access for the next four years.

Green Party gubernatorial candidate Diane Benson also is hoping to keep her party viable until 2006.

Benson, a Native activist from Chugiak, replaced Desa Jacobsson, who dropped out days after the Aug. 27 primary.

Benson has said she hopes to win 6 percent of the vote and ensure her party has ballot access. Benson said she joined the Green Party earlier this year.

Benson says she supports a comprehensive health care plan for all residents and a new oil profits tax to fill the state's budget gap.

"First and foremost, I would want to apply a windfall profits tax on oil that would kick in at $18 a barrel," Benson said at a recent candidate forum. "Quite frankly, if we had had this the past two years, we wouldn't even have a fiscal gap."

Benson said she would work to put an end to shipping Alaska inmates to prisons in the Lower 48 because of overcrowding.

More recently, she has attracted attention by protesting her exclusion from recent Fairbanks debates that Murkowski and Ulmer participated in.

Prior to a noon forum sponsored by the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce last week, Benson walked to the podium holding her campaign sign. Later that day University of Alaska Fairbanks security barred her from the studio during a taped debate there.

On access to the capital city, Benson said more responsive lawmakers and better telecommunications systems would help constituents participate in the legislative process.

While not specific on whether she would support a road to Juneau, Benson said: "We are barely maintaining the (roads) we have.

"We are concerned about access, but I think if we're concerned about access to our legislators, then we need to vote in better legislators maybe that are more accessible to us in their off time."

Alaskan Independence Party candidate Don Wright has generated some notoriety by being disavowed by his own party.

Party Chairman Mark Chryson said Wright has refused to sign the party platform and party members dismissed Wright as a political gadfly who has run as a Democrat and Republican in past elections.

Wright is making his second run for governor under the Alaskan Independence Party ticket. He won 2.6 percent of the general election vote in 1978 running with party founder Joe Vogler.

The Alaskan Independence Party is the state's third largest political party with about 17,798 registered members, elections records show. It was formed in 1970 to advocate that Alaska secede from the union.

Wright, a 72-year-old retiree and former president of the Alaska Federation of Natives who helped negotiate the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, has said he will continue to seek office until he dies or is elected.

Libertarian Billy Toien advocates for a smaller government. In a party Web site, he says the state's fiscal gap does not exist and the state needs an honest accounting system.

"We don't have a budget gap," Toien said in a recent debate. "The state budget is only showing part of the state's income that is the projected cost of government. Billions of dollars of additional income are listed as off-budget assets."

He said there needs to be an independent audit of all state revenue and that all revenue needs to be put in the general fund so the state can more accurately account for it.

In the Libertarian spirit of reducing government, Toien said a road connecting Juneau with the rest of the Alaska highway system should be funded by private industry.

"The people, the vendors, the gas stations, the gift shops, the restaurants all along it could privately own this road, just like a condo association may own a road through the woods going to the condominium," Toien said. "And if it's not economically feasible, then don't do it."

Toien unsuccessfully ran for an Anchorage state House seat in 1996. Toien, who has lived in Alaska for 25 years, lists his occupation as concierge.

In 1982, Dick Randolph ran as the Libertarian candidate for governor and drew enough votes away from Republican Tom Fink to allow a Democrat to win, McBeath said.

More recently, Jack Coghill garnered 14 percent of the vote in 1994 as an Alaskan Independence Party candidate, upsetting Republican Jim Campbell's chances to win, McBeath said. Democrat Gov. Tony Knowles won in a recount by fewer than 600 votes.

After being out of office for more than 20 years, Walter J. Hickel won a second term as governor in 1990 running on the Alaskan Independence Party ticket. But Hickel was widely regarded as a Republican, McBeath said, and he ran under the AIP ticket only after Arliss Sturgulewski won the GOP nomination.

Empire reporter Tim Inklebarger contributed to this report.

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