House budget leader Eldon Mulder will not seek re-election

Posted: Friday, May 31, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- Rep. Eldon Mulder, the influential co-chairman of the House Finance Committee and one of the most powerful lawmakers in Alaska, will not seek re-election.

Mulder has been the House Republican majority's chief budget writer, but his cozy relationship with lobbyists has often pockmarked his 10-year career in the House.

Mulder had faced a potentially tough primary fight against Rep. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Anchorage and the daughter of gubernatorial candidate U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski, in August.

But the 44-year-old Muldoon resident said that didn't factor into his decision.

Mulder said he wants to provide a more stable lifestyle for his daughters, Corey, 10, and MacKenzie, 7. The girls attend Anchorage Christian School, but have been taken out of that school annually to attend Juneau schools during the five-month legislative sessions.

Mulder said Thursday he plans to continue his real estate career, aid other legislative campaigns as well as Frank Murkowski's gubernatorial bid and be a ''full-time dad.''

''It just came down to a matter of my desire and recognition that my girls be in a stable environment,'' Mulder said.

He said he would aid Frank Murkowski's campaign but ruled out accepting a position in state government if the Republican candidate is elected.

Mulder's exit from the Legislature is the latest in a string of departures this year by key lawmakers.

House Speaker Brian Porter, R-Anchorage, and Senate President Rick Halford, R-Chugiak, have both announced their retirement.

House Majority Leader Jeannette James, R-North Pole, will be pitted against Rep. John Coghill, R-North Pole, in the primary. Senate Majority Leader Loren Leman is leaving to run for lieutenant governor.

Lisa Murkowski said that Mulder's exit will be a blow to the old-guard establishment in the House.

''He was the driving force, and I think we all recognize that,'' Murkowski said. ''Yes, Brian was the speaker, but Eldon was the driving force behind the organization.''

Lisa Murkowski will seek election in House District 18, which encompasses parts of Government Hill, Elmendorf Air Force Base and Fort Richardson.

As co-chairman of the House Finance Committee, Mulder held great sway over what legislation moved through the House.

Other lawmakers noted Mulder's savvy in controlling the agenda of the House.

''We were trying to figure out whether there was even a bill that went through House Finance without him supporting it, and we can't think of one,'' said Rep. John Davies, D-Fairbanks.

Conversely, ''I can't think of any measure he actively supported that didn't get through House finance,'' Davies said.

Davies served as a minority member on the House Finance Committee and often was at odds with Mulder over legislation.

Davies was one of several House members on the Fiscal Policy Caucus -- a group of Republicans and minority Democrats who persuaded the House leadership to take on the state's chronic budget deficits.

Alaska relies on oil for about 80 percent of its income, and as production has ebbed, the state has been faced with a mushrooming shortfall.

The state Department of Revenue estimates that Alaska will have a $826.7 million deficit this fiscal year, and that the red ink will grow to $963 million in the 2003 fiscal year that begins in July.

The fiscal policy caucus had proposed a package of tax measures and Alaska Permanent Fund allocations that would provide enough money to plug the hole in the state's budget.

Mulder was opposed to new major taxes and instead favored using earnings from the permanent fund.

Ultimately, what emerged was a plan to split permanent fund earnings between government and dividends and a regressive income tax proposal that even Democrats criticized despite voting for.

Both measures died in the more conservative Senate.

Lisa Murkowski had pushed a dime-a-drink increase in the state's alcohol tax that much of the House Republican caucus favored. Mulder opposed the measure and it eventually was reduced to a seven-cent per drink increase. The Legislature did approve that.

''He had a sense for how far he could push his House caucus members,'' Davies said. ''I think it's fair to say he's an astute politician.''

Mulder learned from other astute politicians, serving on the staff for former GOP Senate President Tim Kelly and Sen. Bettye Fahrenkamp, an influential Democrat from Fairbanks who died in 1991.

Mulder was first elected in 1992 and became a chairman of the House Finance Committee four years ago. As co-chairman, Mulder exercised influence over all fiscal matters in the House.

Mulder was the first of his freshman class in 1992 to be fined by the Alaska Public Offices Commission after a citizen's complaint about campaign violations.

Mulder also faced scrutiny for his wife's lobbying activities while he was in the House. His wife, Wendy Mulder, continues to work for prominent lobbyist Joe Hayes while the Legislature is in session.

Last year, Eldon Mulder was cleared of wrongdoing by the House Select Committee on Legislative Ethics for pushing a bill to benefit the cruise ship industry, which employed Hayes as its lobbyist.

But the panel concluded he used ''poor judgment'' and recommended he and members of his staff attend ethics training.

Mulder said he has enjoyed his time in the Legislature and has not ruled out becoming a lobbyist in the future.

State law requires lawmakers to wait at least a year before they undertake lobbying activities before the Legislature.

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