Merkes switches parties, sets up showdown with Lancaster

More hats thrown in ring for legislative vacancies

Posted: Sunday, April 09, 2000

Saying she can better support the Republican platform, Grace Merkes has switched her party affiliation in preparation for her run at the District 8 House seat being vacated by Rep. Gary Davis, R-Soldotna.

Merkes, a four-term Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member, lost handily two years ago to Davis when she ran as a Democrat. Despite their difference in party affiliation, it was clear they shared most philosophical ideologies.

"At the De-mocratic caucus two years ago, I told them how I felt and didn't get any support from them," Merkes said.

Merkes said the similarity between Davis and herself has caused her to retool her campaign strategy.

"One thing I learned is you really need to get into the issues and talk about them and have an opinion and stand on them," she said.

Merkes is facing Soldotna Mayor Ken Lancaster in the August 22 Republican primary. Merkes said she believes she is more conservative than Lancaster and that there are more differences between them than between her and Davis.

"I was one of the first to send money to the Vote No group, and I don't think Ken supported that idea," Merkes said. "Also the tax-cap initiative that's out there; I think I can support that, and I don't think he does."

Lancaster did not dispute either contention.

"I voted 'Yes' because at some point we'll have to use some funds," Lancaster said. "The question on the ballot was not clear, and that's why there was such a reaction to it."

The September special election ballot question asked Alaskans to approve using a portion of the Alaska Permanent Fund earnings to fund state government.

The Soldotna mayor also said he is against the upcoming property tax cap initiative, which, if passed, would bar municipalities from taxing property at any rate in excess of 10 mills.

As for running against Merkes, Lancaster said it probably won't stay a two-person race in the primary.

"I guess I'm surprised to see her change from a Democrat to a Republican," Lancaster said. "It's early on, and I think we'll both be looking at some other candidates before June 1."

June 1 is the filing deadline.

The winner of the Republican primary could run against former Soldotna City Council member and current borough assembly member Pete Sprague, the only Democrat filed so far.

Despite being new to the Republican Party, Merkes is hitting all the conservative touchstones.

"I'm here to serve the people. I want to make some change, make better government," she said. "There is a lot of dissatisfaction out there right now, and I intend to follow through on that so people don't feel so disenfranchised."

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