Alaska's political heavyweights coast to primary wins

Posted: Wednesday, August 28, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Republican Sen. Frank Murkowski and Democrat Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer claimed their places at the top of their tickets Tuesday, easily winning over lesser known opponents in Alaska's primary election.

With nearly 90 percent of votes counted, Ulmer had 25,598 votes or 92 percent of the Democratic vote. Her closest contenders, Michael Beasley and Bruce J. Lemke, each garnered less than 5 percent.

On the Republican side, Murkowski had 43,798 votes, or just under 70 percent of the total, followed by Wayne Ross with 27 percent. Brad Snowden had 2 percent. Eric E. Wieler had 1 percent.

Right from the start, most of the attention was on Murkowski and Ulmer.

''We had a nice turnout tonight,'' Murkowski said after being declared the Republican winner. ''I clearly think the majority of Alaskans want to see a change in Juneau.''

Ulmer received the endorsement of the Alaska Democratic Party and several unions. She set herself apart from the other candidates during the campaign by declaring that new taxes would be needed to bridge the state's $963 million budget shortfall.

Ulmer said beginning Wednesday she would spend the next six days campaigning from Homer to Fairbanks as she heads toward the Nov. 5 general election.

''What I am hearing from voters is that they want a candidate who levels with them,'' Ulmer said when asked about her position on taxes. ''We all want the economy to grow ... but that doesn't answer the question of how we're going to balance the books.''

Ulmer's economic plan includes pushing for a natural gas pipeline from the North Slope, revamping Alaska's fishing industry and expanding research and opportunities in the state university system.

Ulmer's education plan includes standards-based teaching and testing, inflation-proofing the state's education funding formula and increasing teacher pay.

Julie Anderson, a project manager for the Corps of Engineers at Elmendorf Air Force Base, said she voted for Ulmer because she feels she is most in touch with Alaska issues. She said Murkowski should remain in Washington.

''I think he has a responsibility to us in Congress and he should stay there,'' she said.

Murkowski, who received the support of the Alaska Teamsters and the United Fishermen of Alaska, said that he would not support new taxes, but would instead use budget cuts and high-paying jobs in the oil and gas field to help solve Alaska's budget woes.

Murkowski said if elected governor he would make public safety a top concern. He also laid out his proposal for reinvigorating Alaska's mining industry. Murkowski vowed in his first year to create mine project teams within the Department of Natural Resources to coordinate state and federal agencies and expedite the permitting process.

Saige Chandler, 26, who works in Anchorage with people with mental disabilities, said she voted for Murkowski because of the good job he's been doing as senator for Alaska.

''If it's not broke don't fix it,'' she said after voting in Peters Creek north of Anchorage. ''He is really conservative and I like that.''

Ross, an Anchorage attorney, said if he won he would focus his efforts on improving public safety and education. His fiscal plan called for significantly reducing state spending, building up the Alaska Endowment Fund until it can operate state government on its earnings and cutting the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend payouts to Alaska residents to between $500 and $750 per person. Dividends to Alaska residents in the last five years have exceeded $1,200.

Air Force Master Sgt. William Hayward said it was Ross' ''firm conservative values'' that convinced him to vote for the underdog.

''I don't vote for who will possibly win. I vote how I feel,'' he said.

Ross complained that it had been difficult for him to get the attention of the Republicans when running against Murkowski. According to Alaska Public Offices Commission records, Murkowski's fund-raising totals approached $1 million. Ross had raised less than $90,000.

Ulmer had raised more than $955,000, about the same as Murkowski.

Ross lost his party's nomination in 1998 to John Lindauer when he and Wrangell Sen. Robin Taylor each garnered about 16 percent of the vote. He said if he lost the primary, he wouldn't run again.

''It was a great honor to be a viable candidate for governor. It is obvious people think I make a better lawyer than governor,'' he said.

In the Alaska Independence Party primary, Don Wright was the apparent winner in a six-person race with just over 800 votes, or 35 percent of those cast. Erica Jacobsson won the Green Party nomination, receiving just over 1,200 votes. Billy Toien heads the Libertarian ticket after receiving 452 votes, and Dawn Mendias got 398 votes for governor on the ticket of the Republican Moderates.

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