Several vying for long-shot chance to be governor

Posted: Friday, October 25, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- Small third parties have played a large role in some of Alaska's gubernatorial elections.

But a batch of minor party candidates aren't expected to make such a splash this year, said one political science professor.

Republican Frank Murkowski and Democrat Fran Ulmer have monopolized the political energy this year and no third party candidate appears to have the steam to draw a lot of votes, said Jerry McBeath, of the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

''We don't have anybody there who is going to be able to draw 10 percent of the votes. That's why it is going to be at the most minimal impact,'' McBeath said.

Retired machinist Raymond VinZant Sr., who became the Republican Moderate candidate after their original pick dropped out following the August Primary, would be happy to get 3 percent of the vote.

''Otherwise, the party falls off the ballot and we have to circulate a bunch of petitions,'' VinZant said.

Alaska's four minor parties are required to have more than 6,600 registered party members or garner at least 3 percent of the votes cast in this year's gubernatorial race to remain viable.

The Republican Moderate Party and the Green Party each have less than 5,000 registered voters, according to the state Division of Elections. That means a good showing on Nov. 5 would allow them to retain ballot access for the next four years.

Green Party gubernatorial candidate Diane Benson is also hoping to keep her party viable until 2006.

Benson, a Native activist from Chugiak, replaced Desa Jacobsson, who dropped out days after the Aug. 27 primary.

Benson has said she hopes to win 6 percent of the vote and ensure her party has ballot access. Benson said she joined the Green Party earlier this year.

Benson says she supports a comprehensive health care plan for all residents, a new oil profits tax to fill state's budget gap and an end to shipping prisoners Outside due to overcrowding.

More recently, she has attracted attention by protesting her exclusion from recent debates that Murkowski and Ulmer participated in Fairbanks.

Prior to a noon forum sponsored by the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, Benson walked to the podium holding her campaign sign. Later that day University of Alaska Fairbanks security barred her from the studio during a taped debate there.

Alaskan Independence Party candidate Don Wright has generated some dubious notoriety by being disavowed by his own party.

Party chairman Mark Chryson said Wright has refused to sign the party platform and party members dismissed Wright as a political gadfly who has run as a Democrat and Republican in past elections.

Wright is making his second run for governor under the Alaskan Independence Party ticket. He won 2.6 percent of the general election vote in 1978 running with party founder Joe Vogler.

The Alaskan Independence Party is the state's third largest political party with about 17,798 registered members, elections records show. It was originally formed in 1970 to advocate that Alaska secede from the union.

Wright, a 72-year-old retiree and former president of the Alaska Federation of Natives who helped negotiate the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, has said he will continue to seek office until he dies or is elected.

Libertarian Billy Toien advocates for a smaller government. In a party web site, he says the state's fiscal gap does not exist and the state needs an honest accounting system.

Toien unsuccessfully ran for state House in Anchorage in 1996. Toien, who has lived in Alaska for 25 years, lists his occupation as concierge.

In 1982, Dick Randolph ran as the Libertarian candidate for governor and drew enough votes away from Republican Tom Fink to allow a Democrat to win, McBeath said.

More recently, Jack Coghill garnered 14 percent of the vote in 1994 as an Alaskan Independence Party candidate, upsetting Republican Jim Campbell's chances to win, McBeath said. Democrat Gov. Tony Knowles won in a recount by less than 600 votes.

After being out of office for more than 20 years, Walter J. Hickel won a second term as governor in 1990 running on the Alaskan Independence Party ticket. But Hickel was widely regarded as a Republican, McBeath said, and he only ran under the AIP ticket after Arliss Sturgulewski won the GOP nomination.

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