Candidates face off in final debate

Opponents take jabs at each other but agree on Murkowski lawsuit

Posted: Friday, November 03, 2006

ANCHORAGE - All three candidates for governor said Thursday they supported the state Legislature's lawsuit against Gov. Frank Murkowski to keep him from signing his natural gas contract.

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This week, the Legislature asked a Fairbanks judge to grant a temporary restraining order to prevent the governor from signing the contract with three oil companies without legislative approval. Murkowski has never said he would sign the contract without taking it to the Legislature first, but he has not ruled it out.

Republican Sarah Palin, Democrat Tony Knowles and independent candidate Andrew Halcro said lawmakers did the right thing.

"The Legislature, I respect the action they took," Palin said.

Palin, Knowles and Halcro met Thursday night for their final debate before Tuesday's election. The Anchorage debate was shown statewide on public television.

Other than backing the Legislature, there were few areas all three candidates agreed upon. Perhaps showing the strain of the campaign trail, the three occasionally lapsed into sniping at one another when asking each other questions.

Palin told Knowles that his second term as governor turned into gridlock in part because of his design to put legislators "in a box" and render them ineffective.

Halcro also piled on Knowles' second term, saying the Democrat was AWOL - "absent without leadership."

Knowles responded to both by appealing to them to raise the level of the conversation.

Oil and gas, the main issue of the campaign to date, took a back seat to social issues such as abortion, education, public safety and rural Alaska.

The candidates were pressed on their stances on abortion, and were even asked what they would do if their own daughters were raped and became pregnant.

Palin said she would support abortion only if the mother's life was in danger. When it came to her daughter, she said: "I would choose life."

Both Knowles and Halcro are pro-choice. Halcro said the government needs to stay out of life or death issues.

Knowles, responding to the scenario involving his daughter, said he would counsel her and talk to her, but it would be her decision.

"I would love her and support her no matter what decision she made," Knowles said.

Asked about Gov. Frank Murkowski's call for a special legislative session on same-sex health benefits, both Knowles and Halcro said the session was unnecessary.

But Palin said the question was not simply about health care benefits - it was an extension of voters' definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.

Halcro took issue with that, citing the Alaska Supreme Court opinion that said the definition of marriage cannot be combined with the denial of benefits.

Both Knowles and Halcro said they would support a constitutional amendment providing for subsistence. Palin said she did not believe such an amendment would be required, but she would not block a vote going to the people.

When the candidates were asked what jobs their opponents could fill in their new administrations, Knowles demurred on an answer.

Palin, however, said, Halcro would make a good statistician.

As for Knowles: "Do they need a chef down there in Juneau?"

Knowles is an Anchorage restaurateur.

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