ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Sen. Frank Murkowski's leading Republican opponent in the primary election says Murkowski should return to Alaska, debate his opponents and take stands on major issues facing the state.
''If you really want to run for governor of Alaska, Frank, then I respectfully suggest that it is time for you to 'come home' and be a candidate for governor,'' candidate Wayne Anthony Ross said in a letter sent to Murkowski this weekend.
Ross is an Anchorage attorney who drew more than 17,000 votes in a three-way race in the 1998 Republican gubernatorial primary.
His letter was prompted by Murkowski's earlier proposal that he and the likely Democratic nominee, Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, begin negotiating dates and places for debates before the November general election.
In a letter to Ulmer last week, Murkowski said ''the press of Senate business'' will keep him away from Alaska for most of the general election campaign season.
Murkowski was in Washington, D.C., Monday and couldn't be immediately reached for comment. But his campaign spokesman in Anchorage said Ross may get his chance to debate before the election. Murkowski plans to spend the August congressional recess crisscrossing Alaska and has committed to an Aug. 19 debate on public television station KAKM and an Aug. 8 candidates forum at the Tanana Valley Fair, spokesman Dan Saddler said.
Congress reconvenes in September, and Murkowski then will have to divide his time between campaigning for governor and carrying out his duties in Washington, Saddler said.
Ross said Alaska would be best served if Murkowski remained in the Senate using the ''seniority that Alaska really needs at this period of time'' to protect and promote the state's interests there.
But if Murkowski insists on running for governor, Ross said, ''you should be telling the voters where you stand and what you plan to do'' on issues like the fiscal gap, subsistence, developing resources and improving public safety and education.
''I believe that Alaska voters have the right to know the position of each and every candidate before going to the polls in the August primary,'' Ross said in the letter to Murkowski.
In an interview, Ross said Murkowski has a responsibility to make sure voters get a chance to hear him out and compare his ideas and plans for the state with those of the other gubernatorial candidates.
Sixteen candidates are running under six party banners. While Murkowski and Ulmer may be viewed as front-runners, several other candidates are viable and should be able to debate their positions on issues, Ross said.
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