Senate Q race candidates agree on issues; experience may factor

Posted: Monday, August 16, 2004

Holding down the cost of government, opposing new taxes and defending the Alaska Permanent Fund against all comers appear to be the central themes of this year's three-candidate Republican Party primary race for the Senate District Q seat.

But also high on the candidates' minds are the economy of the Kenai Peninsula and the state as a whole, and the importance of finding a new source of natural gas to feed the demands of industry upon which so many peninsula jobs depend.

Add to that the continuing concern over education funding and one might expect the campaign to reveal a wide range of opinion. Yet the candidates' statements on the basic issue of smaller government and support for jobs appear to demonstrate general agreement. Any differences are more a matter of degree, and that may make the candidates' comparative political experience as important a factor for voters as how they deliver their messages.

The main players are incumbent Sen. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai, and the man he unseated two years ago, former Sen. Jerry Ward, of Sterling. The two have been battling it out in local media advertising campaigns, challenging each other's records and collectively dumping considerable money into the race, the bulk of it from Ward's camp.

Ward served in the Alaska House from 1982 through 1984 and in the Senate from 1996 through 2002. Wagoner, elected to the Senate in 2002, had previously served three years on the Kenai City Council and as that city's mayor for three years.

But a third Republican, one without experience in elected office but who has traveled to Juneau on behalf of issues important to him, has also joined the fray. Kenai resident Scott Hamann is a plain-speaking dark horse who has said he wouldn't be just another budget trimmer in Juneau. He prefers his fiscal surgery done with a hatchet and would target programs not mandated by the Alaska Constitution.

Among other things, Hamann is the Alaska representative to the Washington, D.C. based Motorcycle Riders Foundation and Kenai Peninsula president of ABATE of Alaska (Alaska Bikers Advocating Training and Education). He is chair of Friends of the NRA and a member of the North Peninsula Chamber of Commerce.

Whichever candidate e-merges from the Aug. 24 primary with the party nod, he'll face Robert Merchant, an independent from Kenai who will not appear on the primary ballot. Another dark horse, Merchant has said he entered the race as an Independent because he has become disappointed with the two major parties. He said he is fiscally conservative but more liberal when it comes to social issues.

Columns by primary candidates Hamann, Wagoner and Ward can be found on page A-4, and candidate profiles, including Merchant's, can be found on page A-11 in today's Clarion.

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