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ANCHORAGE - Former Alaska state Rep. Ralph Samuels announced Tuesday he will run for governor, presenting a formidable challenge to incumbent Sean Parnell in the 2010 Republican primary.
Samuels rose to become House Majority leader during his six-year run as a south Anchorage lawmaker. But he found himself on the losing side on crucial votes to advance a proposed multibillion-dollar natural gas pipeline and raise petroleum taxes - bills pushed by then-Gov. Sarah Palin.
Samuels declined to seek re-election to the state House in June 2008. But he has been strongly urged in recent months by GOP factions to enter the gubernatorial race.
"They're concerned that we're not making the correct decisions for the long-term thinking," Samuels said. "They're concerned that the status quo is no longer good enough in the political arena, and I share their concerns."
Parnell replaced Palin in July and has advanced her policies. On Tuesday, he was hosting the annual Governor's Christmas and Holiday Open House in Juneau and could not be immediately reached for comment.
Samuels is a lifelong Alaskan who spent his childhood in Nome, Fairbanks, King Salmon and Metlakatla, where he graduated from high school.
He spent most of his professional career as an executive with PenAir, a commuter line. When he left the Legislature, he took a job with Holland America Line as vice president for operations in Alaska, Hawaii and Canada.
Samuels didn't mention Palin in his announcement but questioned the direction the state took during her term.
"I'm going to fundamentally disagree with some of the things that have happened in the last couple of years," he said.
Samuels was the lone vote against Palin's pipeline legislation, which promised $500 million in seed money to a pipeline company that would meet performance requirements. A state license was awarded by the Legislature to TransCanada Corp.
Exxon Mobil, one of three major producers in Alaska, announced in March it would partner with TransCanada. The other two major producers, ConocoPhillips and BP PLC, proposed their own pipeline without incentives.
"I still think it was the wrong road," Samuels said of Palin's plan. "That being said, it's the road we're on. How you finagle that, now that you have a new partner, as well as you're still going to have to engage the other three, I have a lot of different ideas on how you're going to engage all that."
The economy isn't the only issue facing Alaskans, Samuels said. But without investment, the state would not be able to make choices about high school graduation rates, infrastructure and social services.