Democrats contend to face Gary Stevens

Posted: Tuesday, August 17, 2004

A pair of Democrats will face off in the Aug. 24 primary election, vying to represent their party in the Nov. 2 general election that would pit the winner against incumbent Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak.

Stevens, a retired University of Alaska professor, was elected to the Alaska House in 2000 and 2002, but appointed to the Senate in February 2003 by Gov. Frank Murkowski, replacing Alan Austerman, who resigned to work for the Murkowski administration.

Stevens also has served as mayor of the Kodiak Island Borough, mayor of the city of Kodiak and president of the Kodiak Borough Board of Education, served on the Kodiak Borough Assembly and held numerous other appointed posts.

One possible opponent in November is Democrat Mi-chael L. Yourkowski, a commercial fisher and a member of the Homer City Council, first elected in 1998. Prior to that, he was a member of the Homer Planning Commission.

The other is Mike Milligan, who served seven years on the Kodiak Island Borough Assembly. He is a carpenter and commercial fisher and was a charter member of the Cook Inlet Regional Advisory Council, created in the wake of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Milligan has said Senate District R, which covers Kodiak and the lower Kenai Peninsula including Homer and Seward, is primarily a fishing district and that its economy must be enhanced.

Yourkowski noted that fishing in the district waters is improving. He also said funding quality education in the district and across the state is critical.

At a forum last week in Kodiak, Yourkowski and Milligan took Stevens to task over education funding. While Stevens touted this year's sizeable increase in education spending, about $82 million, the Democrats noted that funding for schools had been declining for years and that the move by Republican lawmakers to increase spending now had more to do with election-year politics than fully funding education.

Both Democrats have said they'd prefer an income tax to a statewide sales tax or tapping Alaska Permanent Fund earnings to fund state government. Stevens opposes both an income and a statewide sales tax.

Stevens supported the percent-of-market-value (POMV) approach to managing the permanent fund, which included a provision that would have made a portion of the fund's value available for spending on government programs each year. The measure fell short of passing in the last session. Milligan has said the POMV approach, while perhaps worthwhile for managing the fund itself, had been hijacked by the Republican Legislature as a way to tap the fund's earnings.

Yourkowski has lamented the recent demise of the Longevity Bonus Program, saying it should have become a benefit program based on income, not ended altogether. During the Kodiak forum, he and Milligan noted the failure of lawmakers to call a special session to discuss the program.

During interviews with the Clarion, all three candidates expressed optimism about the future of the district and the state. Yourkowski said he believes the fishing industry would continue to improve and funding for education would increase. Milligan predicted overall growth in the economy, but that it would be slow, requiring residents to work hard for any gains. Stevens pointed to the proposed Pebble mine and its potential for jobs.

Despite being of two different parties, all three candidates see themselves lining up toward the middle of Alaska's political spectrum.

Milligan described himself as a "liberal deficit hawk." Yourkowski said he is socially progressive and fiscally conservative. Stevens called himself a moderate conservative.

Columns by Stevens, Milligan and Yourkowski can be found on page A-4, and candidate profiles can be found on page A-8 in today's Clarion.

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