With Rep. Don Young absent from Tuesday's U.S. Representative candidate forum, Young's most formidable Republican opponent used the opportunity to throw punches in the congressman's direction.
"Mr. Young is not a successful congressman," said Sheldon Fisher, the former Alaska Communications Systems senior vice president, during the forum hosted by the Kenai and Soldotna chambers of commerce. "He's been there longer than almost anyone else in the House and yet he has no leadership position at all, and it was the Republicans that took that away from him."
Young lost his top spot on the House Committee on Natural Resources in 2008. Young has been Alaska's representative since 1973.
Republican candidate John R. Cox and Democratic candidate Harry Crawford, a State House representative, also participated in Tuesday's event.
Though Fisher had strong words, he often struggled to get them out. Most noticeably, Fisher appeared to lose his train of thought for several seconds during his opening remarks.
Cox, a political outsider who admitted, "I really don't have the experience, but I do have two sets of ears," drew the biggest crowd reactions with sharp sound bites.
"I'd like to say it's nice and sunny outside, but of course I'd be lying to you. I don't want you to think I'm a typical politician," Cox said. It was cloudy at the time.
When asked where budgetary cuts could be made, Cox pointed to congressional perks.
"We'll just use (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi for example. Oh my goodness, this woman drives me off the wall."
When asked about changes in the kind of leadership he would bring, Cox said:
"Let's start off at the very top there, all these czars. What is this, a socialist country?"
Crawford used the forum to trumpet the need to build a gas pipeline, balance the state's budget, and produce energy in Alaska.
The Democrat pointed to military spending as an area that could use cuts.
"Our biggest expense right now that I think we can do something about is the adventures that we embarked on in Afghanistan and Iraq," Crawford said. "I think that Iraq was a war based on oil. I don't think it was to protect our people."
Crawford also had his own criticism of Alaska's current representative.
"Don Young has squandered what Alaska gave to him," Crawford said. "Senator (Ted) Stevens always had friends on the Democratic side. Don Young doesn't have that relationship with the people on the other side."
On proposition 2, which would require women under 18 years old to receive parental consent before having an abortion, the Republican candidates spoke in favor while Crawford said he is pro choice. The candidates were united in their desire to transfer control of federal lands in Alaska over to the state.
While Crawford expressed his approval of the automobile industry bailout, saying it saved jobs, the Republicans spoke against it.
"When did the federal government start building cars?" Cox asked rhetorically. "That is just ludicrous."
Fisher pointed out that Young supported the automobile bailout, which Fisher believes did a "great disservice" to the industry.
The primary elections are Tuesday.
Andrew Waite can be reached at email@example.com.
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