Tour de Fran takes informal campaign across Railbelt

Posted: Wednesday, September 04, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Democrat Fran Ulmer took a detour from her quest for governor while in the Railbelt last week to autograph an outhouse.

The impromptu stop during her five-day whistle-stop tour was in keeping with the informal style of campaigning Ulmer has waged thus far in her bid for governor.

''There's a lot to being a good sport when you're a candidate,'' said Ulmer. ''You have to have your feet on the ground and be ... a human being.''

The Democrat and current lieutenant governor took a moment while in Nenana to sign her name to a campaign bumper sticker taped to Charles Hnilicka's outdoor commode.

Ulmer is up against Republican candidate and U.S. Senator Frank Murkowski, who also did his share of campaigning in the Interior over the last month. Murkowski's campaign included stops by aircraft in communities along the Richardson Highway, accompanied by his wife.

Murkowski's stumping style consisted mostly of giving speeches to small crowds followed by organized question and answer sessions.

Ulmer began her ''Tour de Fran'' trip in Homer on Aug. 28 and concluded it in Fairbanks. Ulmer traveled in a rented motorhome with her son, Louis, at the wheel and her husband, Bill Council, and running mate Ernie Hall joining portions of the trip.

With few exceptions, her travels included frequent stops to flash a smile and shake hands with supporters or answer questions from potential voters.

There were no supporters to greet her at the Totem Inn in Healy on Sunday, so Ulmer introduced herself to every patron in the restaurant.

''It's an opportunity to get out in communities that normally the gubernatorial candidate couldn't get to,'' said Ulmer campaign manager Jim Nordlund of the trip.

The campaign style of the two gubernatorial candidates underscores the contrast between their positions on the state's future.

Murkowski has argued that building roads and promoting further development of oil, mining and timber harvesting will help grow the state out of its current deficit.

The state Department of Revenue estimates Alaska will have a $963 million budget shortfall next fiscal year. Alaska's Constitutional Budget Reserve, a state savings account that has funded previous shortfalls, is expected to be drained by 2004.

Murkowski's support for a natural gas pipeline from the North Slope to the Lower 48 and an extension of the Alaska Railroad drew praise along the Richardson Highway.

Ulmer also supports a pipeline and economic development. But she questioned how the state can afford expensive road construction projects.

She said promoting economic development and reducing state spending will not be enough to fill the state's budget shortfall.

Ulmer has expressed support for a statewide tax to help fill the gap, an approach dismissed by Murkowski.

Ulmer plans to unveil the particulars of her plan in a speech Wednesday to the Eagle River Chamber of Commerce, Nordlund said.

The Democrat candidate won praise from Alaskans who don't believe Murkowski's approach is plausible.

''She has a realistic understanding of what the budget deficit is and has offered the only realistic solution,'' said retired engineer Jim Johnson, who attended a Labor Day picnic in Fairbanks. ''Every other candidate is trying to cover it with smoke and mirrors.''

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