Lt. gov. candidates discuss job parameters

Posted: Friday, July 12, 2002

The campaign for lieutenant governor continued Wednesday on the Kenai Peninsula as candidates spoke before a Kenai Chamber of Commerce luncheon crowd offering their visions for the state's future.

Republicans Gail Phillips, Sen. Robin Taylor and Sen. Loren Leman arrived fresh off their Tuesday appearances in Soldotna.

This time, however, Green Party of Alaska candidate Diane E. Benson of Eagle River and Democratic Party candidate Ernie Hall of Anchorage joined the GOP hopefuls, as well as fellow Republican Sarah Palin, currently mayor of Wasilla.

Benson and Hall are each running unopposed in the Aug. 27 primaries for their respective parties. Palin is in the Republican Party primary election horse race with Phillips, Taylor, Leman and Paul R. Wieler of Anchorage, who was at neither of this week's chamber luncheons.

Benson told the audience she is a lifelong Alaskan, having been born in Sitka. She said she has bachelor degrees in theater studies, journalism and justice and a master's of fine arts in creative writing. She said she is not a professional politician.

"So why would a writer, actor and director of the stage want to enter this arena?" she asked. "It seems complementary, on one hand, because politics can be very entertaining. But I entered because there are a lot of issues that aren't being discussed.

"What happened to their health care plan?" she asked. "Education is a critical issue. We say that children are first, but still we keep putting education on the back burner. We keep relying on the middle class to carry the burden."

She went on to say the oil companies do not share that burden, but she also said the state relies heavily on multinational corporations and Outside interests.

"I think we could build local industry in Alaska," she said. "We need to believe in Alaskans."

Benson said she wants to see Alaska history taught in Alaska schools. She also said people hired to work in state government should have a good handle on the state's history.

She said Alaska faces serious problems with drug and alcohol abuse. She also noted concerns over the state budget.

Hall has been a resident of Alaska since moving here with his parents in 1959. He operates the family business, Alaska Furniture Manufacturers. He has been a member of the Alaska State Board of Education and has served as chair of several organizations, including the Alaska Food Bank, the Anchorage Economic Development Corp. and the Anchorage Chamber of Com-merce.

"My vision is an Alaska with a sound financial future, excellent job opportunities for our children and grandchildren when they finish their formal education, and a quality of life that enriches our citizens and makes them love our state as much as I do," he told the Kenai audience.

He called for a sturdy foundation built on "a balanced state budget, the efficient and cost-effective delivery of state services, good use of Alaska's assets and a fair and equitable tax policy."

He also said Alaska must work now to attract new business.

"As a state community, the decision should be made as to the type of industries and development we want to initially join with oil and assume the leading role as oil diminishes," he said. "These new industries need time to develop and become sustaining sources of revenue for Alaska."

To attract such industry, however, Alaska needs a tax policy that is not oppressive to industry and that is predictable so that industry can plan for the future.

Hall called for adequate funding for education and educational programs created by the University of Alaska that meet the needs of Alaska's employers.

The state needs a good health and safety net, he said.

Palin, a 37-year resident of Alaska, is now in her second term as mayor of Wasilla, a post she won following two terms on the Wasilla City Council. She is president of the Alaska Conference of Mayors. She is a former television reporter and commercial fisher.

"Alaska needs leadership based on more than just years of government experience and political rhetoric," she said. "It should be based on example and on vision."

She said she has a record of success "in a pro-private sector agenda" as mayor of Wasilla.

"My philosophy there has been to fund necessary infrastructure and to cut taxes to create incentives for families and businesses to be there and to be able to grow and prosper," she said. "This pro-private sector agenda can be ushered in statewide. The lieutenant governor's role can be an assisting role to do that."

Palin said property taxes in Wasilla have been reduced every year for six years. Personal property taxes and small business inventory taxes also have been eliminated, while sales tax revenues tripled, the commercial property tax base tripled, and the number of businesses doubled, she said.

"My passion is Alaska, and it is for resource development, resource-based jobs in this God-given resource-based land of opportunity that we have. And I believe we are still the land of opportunity," she said. "I think some in statewide office at this time have kind of shied away from that mentality -- of the positive, progressive Alaska that we can be. I'm going to turn that around."

The candidates were asked about the job of lieutenant governor.

Benson said she had concerns about the new restricted ballot process in which voters no longer can vote across party lines in the primary. She also said she favors an instant runoff system.

Hall said he believed he could be "the eyes and ears" for the governor in a Fran Ulmer administration, traveling around the state and bringing the messages of the people directly to the governor.

Palin said she saw the job as a supportive role to the governor. She also said she had no further political ambitions at this time and could put her personal agenda aside.

"Our governor would not need a food taster in that I would not be gunning for his job," she said.

The other candidates largely stuck to the messages they delivered the day before at a luncheon of the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce. (See the story in Wednesday's Peninsula Clarion).

"I believe we have been stagnant now for about 20 years and the people of Alaska are starting to get very, very concerned about us not moving forward," said Gail Phillips of Homer, a former member of the Alaska House of Representatives.

She promised to help build Alaska's infrastructure to enable use of state resources, including making Alaska's natural gas available statewide.

Sen. Loren Leman of Anchorage said that under a Republic administration led by U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski, the clear leader in the Republican primary race for governor, the state would have "good division directors and good commissioners" and would not have to worry about bad regulations. He said the most important job, however, would be advancing the administration's positions to the public, working with the Legislature.

Sen. Robin Taylor of Wrangell also focused on jobs.

"I want there to be a heritage for my grandchildren in this state. I want there to be jobs. I want there to be opportunities and that is only going to occur when we turn this state around," he said. That means basing the economy on resources, "not on taxing you or stealing the money out of your permanent fund."

Taylor also said that as lieutenant governor, he'd have veto power over new state regulations.

According to the Alaska Department of Law, however, the lieutenant governor's powers over regulations are limited. First, the office holder has no control over boards and commissions, the Reg-ulatory Commission of Alaska, the Office of Victim's Rights or over the state ombudsman's office.

Second, what authority the lieutenant governor does have is delegated by the governor. Strictly speaking, authority over regulations is the governor's duty unless he delegates it.

The lieutenant governor does review certain regulations, but he or she can only turn back those that either conflict with state law (usually determined by an opinion from the Alaska Attorney General's office), or those that raise questions for the Admin-istrative Regulation Review Committee, in which case they are sent back to the promulgating agency for a rewrite.

Boards and commissions, such as the Alaska Fish Board, which generate some of the most controversial regulatory decisions, are certified by the Legislature, which provides the oversight function.

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