Political candidates are headed into their final weeks of campaigning before the Nov. 2 election, and things are getting boisterous.
Except for hockey, politics may be Alaskans' most beloved combat sport.
The most entertaining events are almost daily revelations by the media of past personal actions by Republican Senate candidate Joe Miller that undercut his campaign message of self-reliance and reduced dependence on the federal government, as well as messages of major surgery to major federal programs like Social Security and Medicare.
Critics, including Lisa Murkowski, the incumbent U.S. senator who Miller narrowly defeated in the primary election, say Miller secured fishing licenses available to low-income Alaskans when he was building a large house in Anchorage, enjoyed the benefits of low-interest federal farm loan programs and that his wife drew unemployment after working for Miller as a law clerk when he was a federal magistrate.
Miller responded that all of this was legal.
The Republican Party-backed candidate has also softened early arguments that federal programs like unemployment insurance, Medicare and Social Security should be ended, saying he supports them but that they should be state responsibilities because the federal Constitution does not provide for them.
Murkowski, meanwhile, is being criticized for having backed away from a commitment to support whoever voters chose in the primary election, and instead mounted a write-in effort, which Miller's supporters argue is just sour grapes.
Scott McAdams, the Democratic senate candidate who is mayor of Sitka, is firing broadsides at Miller over Medicare and Social Security and proposing his own plans to promote jobs and reduce the federal debt.
Miller is stepping gingerly around issues that affect rural Alaskans, including the controversy over Native corporation federal contracting under minority 8(a) programs, hoping to soften rural opposition. Miller says he supports 8(a) contracting, but his earlier comments objecting to a land exchange for Sealaska Corp. in Southeast Alaska helped fuel Native opposition.
Influential Native groups, including the Alaska Federation of Natives, have endorsed Murkowski.
Polls show substantial voter support for both Miller and Murkowski, with the effect of Murkowski's independent write-in likely taking votes from McAdams, the Democrat. Murkowski may have support, but the logistical challenges of getting voters to write in her name means and fill in the bubble that she faces an uphill fight.
Also, a surge of late-campaign Tea Party Express money from outside the state will flow into Alaska to help Miller, just as it did in the final weeks of the primary election.
Meanwhile, there has been no debate in the senate election on deeper issues affecting the nation, like the quagmire in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the emerging military and financial strength of China, the U.S. economy, health care reform or education.
In the governor's race state Sen. Hollis French, a Democrat, leveled a blast at Republican Gov. Sean Parnell, running for governor, for failing to take action under the new federal health care reform law to extend state health coverage to children of retired state workers.
French is indirectly helping Parnell's Democratic opponent Ethan Berkowitz, who won a the primary election contest against French for the Democratic nomination for governor.
The federal law provides for extended health plan coverage for children up to age 26, but Parnell has taken advantage of a provision that delays this coverage for children of retired state workers, French said in an Oct. 5 letter to Parnell.
French said Parnell's actions against the federal health care bill, which includes joining a multi-state lawsuit to block it, shows Parnell placing a conservative political agenda over his responsibility to help individual Alaskans.
Parnell, meanwhile, worked to show voters that he has mettle by filing a new lawsuit Sept. 30 against the federal government, this time against the National Park Service over regulations that give federal agencies authority over navigable waters, which are state-owned, within federal conservation units.
Parnell also ordered the state to intervene in a federal criminal case brought by the Park Service against an Alaskan arrested while operating a small boat on the upper Yukon River.
The governor has initiated a number of lawsuits against the government over the Endangered Species Act, restrictions on offshore drilling and other issues.
Parnell picked up an endorsement of a national small business group, the National Federation of Independent Business, or NFIB. The group credited Parnell's actions, as governor, for securing a reduction in the cruise ship passenger tax, promoting low interest business loans, a state deferred maintenance program and a broad resource development agenda, all which will help small firms in Alaska.
Meanwhile, Democrats Ethan Berkowitz and Diane Benson, running for governor and lieutenant governor, put some buzz in their campaign with new embellishments to a plan to allow individual Alaskans to invest directly in an Alaska natural gas pipeline with a permanent fund dividend check-off.
Parnell criticized the plan as risky, but Berkowitz and Benson said public interest in it helped spur their fundraising, which totaled $208,002 from 997 contributors for the during their first five weeks as candidates.
Berkowitz also called for an independent state attorney general who would still be appointed by the governor but could not be fired by him or her, and would serve the broader interests of the state.
If there were actions against the governor involving executive action, the state would provide an attorney, Berkowitz said. This would avoid possible conflicts of interest for the attorney general.
Berkowitz has also criticized Parnell for hiring two former legislators, Gene Therriault and Nancy Dahlstrom, within the period the two were prohibited from working for the state after leaving the Legislature.
Dahlstrom was hired to look after state-military affairs, while Therriault was an energy advisor to Parnell. Both resigned after legal questions were aired over their hiring.
Despite the criticisms Parnell seems to be maintaining a lead over Berkowitz in the polls.
Tim Bradner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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