Fundraising year should speak volumes about governor's race

Posted: Wednesday, December 07, 2005

As the end of the year approaches, many common themes occupy our thoughts and activities. Planning for travel for the holidays, charitable contributions to be made to qualify for this year's deductions, what to do on New Year's Eve. For those involved in politics, the end of the calendar year also presents a deadline all its own: the end of the fundraising year.

Monitoring financial activity in the campaign world says a lot about the relative strength of those running for office. Candidates in next fall's state elections can raise a legally determined amount of money this year, and then get up to the same amount from donors in 2006. This is true for all 40 state House seats up to be filled (or refilled), the 10 Senate seats in play, and the offices of governor and lieutenant governor. A look at the status of declared state candidates shows that most choose not to specify for which seat they are running.

So far this year, not everyone who may be at the top of the ballot next November has declared intentions about winning the governor's office. Though this eliminates the ability to raise money for one's campaign, beyond the proscription on amassing the funds needed to mount an effective campaign, there is a more far-reaching chilling effect on competitors' ability to generate donations. Major donors want to wait until they know the field before betting a sizable sum on any given contender

Four Alaskans who have expressed the desire to be governor - who have at least a chance - have filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission. Taking them alphabetically, the first of these is Ethan Berkowitz, Democratic Representative of Anchorage's House District 26, who has declared his intent to run for statewide office, but not registered as a candidate for governor. Ethan is currently the minority leader in the House, and is an intelligent elected official. He has not lived in Alaska all his life, as his Democrat challenger, Eric Croft, who represents Anchorage District 25. This cozy downtown Anchorage contest may tilt to Croft if he is able to focus on a statewide agenda during the upcoming session while Berkowitz is attending to spearheading the Ds' House strategy.

Of course whichever Democrat wins the primary election, it will be a formidable task to beat the Republican candidate for the state's top job. Looking at Tony Knowles's two wins, it is clear that the weakness of the Republican candidate and third-candidate pressures let him win with narrow margins both times he ran for governor. It just isn't easy to beat a Republican statewide in Alaska anymore. Sarah Palin, former mayor of Wasilla, is the only declared Republican in the race right now. Some say she may have burned bridges with fellow party members in being such a vocal critic of the Murkowksi administration, but perhaps such strident expressions will create buzz or hype for her campaign.

The huge question for both sides is, will Gov. Murkowski decide to run for re-election, and if he does, will Tony Knowles emerge from the woodwork and go for a third term as governor? I wish I knew the answer. Everybody wishes they knew the answer. But only time will ultimately tell their intentions. And the inability to raise money in 2005 doesn't seem to be conducing an answer to the looming question.

Many would pounce on Gov. Murkowski's stances on the elimination of the Longevity Bonus program, the acquisition of a jet, and the protracted gas pipeline negotiation process in opposition to his bid for re-election. He will run on having presided over four years of ample state income and concomitant increases in popular and important programs, led by needed additions of education funds. Knowles has, of course, run once unsuccessfully for office since serving as governor, and he was not fortunate to have balanced, surplus-generating budgets like his successor. It would be interesting to see what message he might take to Alaska voters.

Between now and midnight on Saturday this 31st of December, we may learn more about the 2006 governor's race. We are certain to know more in the New Year.

• Benjamin Brown is a lifelong Alaskan, an actor and an attorney.



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