Alaska Democrats, Republicans meet

Posted: Friday, May 21, 2004

ANCHORAGE Alaska Republican and Democrats are holding their state conventions this weekend, with the spotlight on the U.S. presidential campaign and partisan issues.

The Republican Party of Alaska launched its three-day gathering Thursday in Soldotna and will select delegates to the national convention on Saturday.The Alaska Democratic Party kicks off its two-day convention in Anchorage on Saturday, when statewide delegates will declare their presidential preferences and elect national delegates.

Between 350 and 450 Alaska Republicans are taking part in their party's convention at the Soldotna Sports Center. Because President Bush's bid for re-election is unopposed, the highlight of the event is electing 26 of the 29 voting delegates to attend the national convention at New York City's Madison Square Garden on Aug. 30-Sept. 2. Another 26 alternates also will be chosen.

''Republicans are hugely in agreement with the presidential agenda,'' said state party Chair Randy Ruedrich.

Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman is scheduled to address the Republicans tonight with a speech entitled, ''The Mission Victory 2004,'' according to the convention agenda.

Early comers to the Democratic session will meet tonight at The Fly By Night Club, known for its biting political satires. The show will include a new act spoofing the presidential campaign ''The Liar Sleeps Tonight,'' sung to the tune of ''The Lion Sleeps Tonight,'' said the club owner, who goes by the name of Mr. Whitekeys.

''Undoubtedly there will also be some slant on the Democratic Party, just as we do with Republicans every time they're in here,'' he said.

Among about 220 state delegates attending the Democratic convention, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry is expected to be the favored presidential candidate over longshot Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, said Bridget Gallagher, executive director of the Alaska Democratic Party. Delegates will state their preferences beginning at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Hilton Anchorage hotel.

They also will select 18 voting delegates and four alternates to send to the national convention, where more than 4,300 delegates will elect a nominee for president. The national convention will be held in Boston on July 26-29.

While the presidential campaign commands attention, it's not the most important component for Democrats meeting in Anchorage, said state party Chair Scott Sterling, who remained uncommitted to a candidate on Thursday.

Sterling said the event is a good time to reflect on the need for partisan change specifically toppling Republicans, including U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and her father, Gov. Frank Murkowski, who appointed her to fill his unexpired term when he was elected governor in 2002.

Both Murkowskis are speaking at the Republican convention. Former Gov. Tony Knowles, a Democratic challenger for Lisa Murkowski's Senate seat, is the featured speaker at the Democratic convention banquet Saturday evening.

''Alaska is not huge factor in the presidential race, so we shouldn't waste time and money on something we can't affect. We want to win races,'' Sterling said. ''We need to be united in opposing the policies that hurt working people.''

Sterling said he's particularly eager to see the end of the governor's regime, calling Murkowski's appointment of Ruedrich as state oil and gas commissioner a ''considerable lack of good judgment.'' Ruedrich resigned from the post earlier this year after being accused of engaging in Republican party work on the job. He is trying to settle a case brought by the Alaska Department of Law, which found probable cause that he violated the state Ethics Act.

Ruedrich said Thursday his personal problems are not affecting his involvement in the state Republican convention. He is one of the speakers scheduled to discuss the state of the party this morning.

''I doubt my issue will be significant here because the leadership is overwhelmingly in support of my activities,'' Ruedrich said. ''I haven't heard about it from one soul today.''

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