Taylor locked in heated primary battle to keep seat

Posted: Sunday, August 13, 2000

KETCHIKAN (AP) -- For more than a decade, state Sen. Robin Taylor hasn't faced much opposition within his party.

But this year the outspoken Republican is locked in a tough primary fight on his hands from one of his neighbors in Wrangell.

Former Wrangell Mayor Bill Privett, who has collected a pile of money and lined up formidible support within the GOP, has gone after Taylor with an aggressive campaign that includes ads linking the incumbent with famous tyrants of the past.

''I've never been subjected to this level of negativity, these kinds of attacks,'' Taylor said. ''It's frustrating, this divisive thing, at a time when we ought to be pulling together.''

One of Privett's ads places Taylor's face on Napoleon Bonaparte's body over a quote that says, ''Sometimes, some local politicians seem to take themselves a little too seriously.''

A second ad is the senator's face on the body of Henry VIII. That full-page ad includes the quote, ''Citizens suffer when local politicians become overly arrogant.''

In an interview with the Anchorage Daily News, Privett defended his tactics leading up to the Aug. 22 primary.

''My intention is not to be negative, or to slam Robin in any way,'' he said. ''I just think he has made some major errors against the people. He has been there long enough, most folks feel.''

Taylor represents Senate District A, which includes Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg and Sitka. The candidates island-hop every few days to shake hands with voters.

Though Taylor and Privett agree on the need to bring back logging jobs in the surrounding Tongass National Forest, they're worlds apart on letting the public vote on a constitutional amendment giving rural subsistence users a priority to hunt and fish.

Taylor is one of eight senators who blocked attempts to put a measure on the ballot allowing a subsistence priority for rural Alaskans. Privett insists voters deserve a shot at it.

During a recent television debate in Ketchikan, Taylor said funding for education in Alaska has gone down because of shrinking enrollments, not legislative cuts, as Privett asserts. He said he's proud of the accountability lawmakers have forced on the education system. Privett argued that schools need more funding and attaining that money would be a top priority.

On the state's fiscal gap, Taylor prescribes cost-cutting, privatization and resource development. Privett said the state ''should prioritize our spending habits,'' but didn't elaborate on how he would do that.

Taylor, 57, has served 16 years in the Legislature -- the first eight in the House before being elected to the Senate in 1992.

In 1998, he made an unsuccessful run at the governor's office as a last-minute write-in GOP candidate after the party disowned Republican primary winner John Lindauer over his campaign financing tactics. Taylor got about 18 percent of the vote.

Privett, 46, owns Wrangell Oil Inc. He was the city's mayor for three terms and served on the Wrangell City Council and school board.

The Republican winner of the primary will run against teacher Greg Middag in November. Middag, a Democrat unopposed in the primary, lost to Taylor in 1996.

Privett calls himself ''just an average citizen who runs a fuel-oil business'', but he built a $106,823 campaign war chest, according to Alaska Public Offices Commission reports. About $50,000 came out of Privett's own pocket.

Taylor, who reported $35,622 in his campaign fund, $9,200 of his own money, said the Democratic party and the AFL-CIO, which traditionally endorses Democrats, are behind Privett's campaign.

Alaska AFL-CIO president Mano Frey said he is encouraging affiliates around the state to support Privett ''because Robin Taylor has not demonstrated himself to be a friend of the working people of the state.''

Two union political action committees gave Privett $2,000, while four Native PACs chipped in another $4,000.

Bankers, fishermen and employees of General Communications Inc. gave the biggest contributions to Privett, including nearly $4,000 collected at a fund-raiser held at GCI president Ron Duncan's Anchorage home.

Veco Alaska Inc., an oil field service company, and Alaska Communication Systems were the largest check-writers for Taylor's race.

Republican consultant Al Hackney, who is working on Privett's campaign with pollster Dave Dittman, said Taylor's abrasive behavior has driven voters away and has kept him from building coalitions in the Legislature.

''I'm just fed up with Robin,'' Hackney said. ''I think he's mean-spirited. He's too mean-spirited to be in public office.''

Taylor defended his behavior as an honest approach.

''As an elected official, it's fraudulent to not say where you stand,'' he said. ''I'm outspoken because I want people to know where I stand.'' He said he has many allies in the Legislature, adding that other lawmakers often ask him to lead an issue on the floor for them.

Former Republican Rep. Cheri Davis of Ketchikan said she used to be a Taylor supporter, but that dishonesty drove her away.

''We shared a campaign office,'' Davis said. ''On the phone, he would say one thing to one person, and another to someone else. I would like to put up billboards saying 'Robin Taylor lies through his teeth.'

''He can be rude and vicious,'' she added. ''It's not in our best interest to have someone like that representing us.''

But Oral Freeman, another former legislator from Ketchikan, backs the incumbent.

''Robin, he has convictions and the courage to stand up for what he believes in,'' Freeman said. ''I have no idea what Privett stands for.''



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