The good fight: Area candidates work to make campaign friendly

Posted: Friday, November 03, 2000

Ever heard "it's a small world"? Alaskans running for political office battle that smallness in community after community, street after street, door after door, repeatedly crossing each other's campaign trails.

Fighting the good fight, with a dash of fun and a focus on issues, are House District 8 candidates Ken Lancaster and Pete Sprague, both of Soldotna, and House District 9 candidates Mike Chenault and James Price, both of Nikiski, and Hal Smalley of Kenai.

"You know, Pete and I have had a good time," said Lan-caster, Sol-dotna's mayor. "There's no pressure from either one of us. People have commented on that. They say, 'You're both nice guys. It's going to be hard to make a decision.' I hope that's true."

Sprague, who is a Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member, agreed that he and Lancaster have kept the election focused on the issues.

"We've both run very good, very issue-oriented campaigns," Sprague said. "I believe it's working very well. We have similarities and we have differences and I've tried to highlight those.

"What I said at (the Soldotna) chamber last week was that we're both very good candidates and that voters do have a difficult choice."

Crisscrossing the Kenai Peninsula, Lancaster and Sprague have put the pedal to the metal, carving a deep campaign trail between the communities of Soldotna, Cooper Landing, Seward, Hope and points along the way.

For Lancaster, a Seward High School graduate who grew up in Cooper Landing and moved to Soldotna in 1962, this is familiar territory. For Sprague, who was a Soldotna letter carrier for 15 years and is an avid outdoor enthusiast, trail blazing is second nature.

The local election process is familiar to both candidates, but running for the Alaska House of Representatives has given them some new experiences.

"I've always been a registered nonpartisan," said Lancaster. "But I have a tendency to lean Republican as I look back over the years. My parents were both Republicans. So, I did go over to the Republican Party."

Sprague, running as a Democrat, said his decision to campaign for the same seat as Lancaster caused him to pause.

"I had to consider the fact that we were friends and that we worked together well," Sprague said. "But I just realized that there was a campaign process. We could be candidates and campaign for the same office and still get along before, during and after."

Lancaster said the two candidates met the same way Sprague met a lot of Soldotna people: Sprague was Lancaster's letter carrier.

"I used to deliver his mail," said Sprague. "And he was the mayor (of Soldotna) while I was on the Soldotna City Council. We worked well together, and we got along well together."

With only a few days remaining until Election Day, neither candidate is expecting their campaign strategies to change, in terms of their interaction.

"I don't anticipate any negativity in the next week or so," Sprague said. "I've been very happy with the way it's gone and didn't expect otherwise."

Lancaster's experience running for the Homer Electric Association board of directors gave him a lasting lesson about elections. He ran three times before finally being voted to the board.

"We'll continue to work together in whatever walk we take from here," Lancaster said of his and Sprague's interest in public service. "I don't think that's going to be a problem. Someone's going to win and someone's going to lose."

In House District 9, Republican candidate Chenault summed up his experience this way:

"I guess it's fun," Chenault said. "That's the only way I can really say it because I don't have vendettas against anybody. Hopefully when all is said and done, we'll have kept on even ground and stayed to the issues.

"If we can do that, then if Hal or James should win, I'm man enough that it won't bother me."

Chenault said he doesn't remember exactly how long he's known Democratic candidate Smalley.

"But since he's our legislator, I've had the opportunity to talk to him a couple of different times and get to know him that way," he said.

He met Republican Moderate candidate Price through work.

"He worked for me at one time," said Chenault, who runs an oil field service company. "But other than that, I was really kind of unfamiliar with James until we started campaigning."

Campaigning has expanded the relationship between Chenault and his former employee.

"I know we're not enemies, so we're either friends or acquaintances," he said. "We get along fairly well. We've kind of agreed to disagree."

Like Lancaster, running in a partisan election has been a new experience for Chenault.

"I don't know of any candidate that agrees 100 percent with either the Republican or Democratic platform," he said.

The election's lack of heated debates may disappoint some voters, but it is a key in Chenault's campaign approach.

"I've just tried to stick to the issues and not let personalities or personal things get into the campaign," Chenault said. "I take it serious enough to the point that I can go down to Juneau and represent the people in my district. But I can also not take it so seriously that it's a life and death problem.

"If I lose, I still have a job. And I'll continue to work in the community and do my other things to make it a better place to live. And I might run again at a future time."

Price remembered having worked for Chenault, and also knew Smalley from having contacted his legislative office on several topics. Keeping issue-oriented while enjoying the process has been this Republican Moderate's approach.

"I try to stick to the issues," Price said. "I try not to make my attacks personal. We've actually had a pretty good time."

Price got a close-up look at campaigns when he was the chairman for a candidate in the 1998 primary.

"It gave me an idea as to what I would be up against and a little heads-up as far as how to deal with the Alaska Public Offices Commis-sion and the Division of Elections," he said.

Understanding the difference between Republican Moderates and Republicans has caused confusion for some voters, but Price is only too happy to help them understand.

"I really find it exciting," he said. "I'm really anxious to see what kind of recognition I receive and our party receives. And I expect to do well."

He also expects to be shaking hands with Chenault and Smalley on Wednesday morning.

"I believe any differences we have are strictly philosophical," Price said. "I don't have any animosity with the other candidates. I think we've all been fair and I think the race has been a clean race. I had some problems here and there, but it never had anything to do with Hal or Mike.

"I've tried hard not to offend either of the candidates because our party is about change and I do create a bit of a different picture by being in there between them. I've brought out issues that would never have been there had a Republican Moderate not been in the race."

Smalley, the incumbent, said he's campaigning for the opening, rather than running against anyone.

"I run for the available position," he said. "That keeps it onto specific issues and I think that's what campaigning should be about. It's the issues."

A retired teacher, Smalley said he worked with Chenault's sister for many years at an area high school and also taught Chenault's brothers.

His became acquainted with Price after Price contacted Smalley's legislative office on a couple of topics.

In the last few days before Tuesday's election, Smalley intends to run his campaign in the same manner as he has since the beginning.

"We're in the last week and hopefully we'll stay on the issues," he said. "That's what it's all about, being truthful rather than spreading misinformation. If that can be controlled, it would be great. And I know Mike and James agree."

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