Alaska Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell stunned everyone at the Republican state convention Friday by announcing he will challenge 18-term incumbent Don Young for Alaska's lone seat in the U.S. House.
"For too long, we have expected too little from our elected officials," Parnell said. "It is time for change."
Young, the subject of a federal investigation that includes his campaign finance practices, last month refused to answer questions about why his campaign has spent $845,035 on legal fees. Young said only the media, not his constituents, had asked about the fees.
Young refused to answer again when a reporter identified himself as a constituent, but one who had not voted for Young. Parnell seized on that detail in his announcement.
"The notion that an elected official gets to pick who his constituents are based on whether they voted for him -- that is wrong," Parnell said.
Young had briefly left the room and returned to find he had just picked up a formidable primary opponent. He followed Parnell to the dais and delivered a typically feisty reply.
"Sean, congratulations," Young said. "I beat your dad, and I'm going to beat you."
Pat Parnell ran as a Democrat against Young in the 1980 general election. Young received 114,089 votes to the elder Parnell's 39,922, according to the Division of Elections.
Gesturing with his finger toward Parnell, Young said that if Parnell had wanted the U.S. House seat, he should have run two years ago.
"If you wanted to run for this job, you should have done it two years ago instead of running for lieutenant governor," Young said. "You wanted that job. Stay where you are, and that's where you're going to be."
With Gov. Sarah Palin at his side, Parnell later today filed his official paperwork at the state elections office in Anchorage.
State Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Kodiak, is also seeking the Republican nomination.
Democratic challengers include Ethan Berkowitz, former minority leader of the state House; Jake Metcalfe, former head of the state Democratic Party; and Diane Benson, who challenged Young in 2006 and received more than 40 percent of the vote.
Parnell's announcement followed a speech by Palin to delegates. During her address, Palin called for changes in the party. She said voters do not want personal interests and "undue influence" guiding policies.
"They don't want that getting in the way of what's right," she said.
The annual convention was meant to be a show of unity for Alaska Republicans, but there's been growing unrest since federal prosecutors started investigating Alaska politicians.
Three former Republican lawmakers have been convicted of federal bribery charges, and one more awaits trial. Two others - including U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens' son, Ben, the state party's national committeeman and former state Senate president - remain under investigation but have not been charged. The chief of staff for Palin's predecessor pleaded guilty to a federal wire fraud charge this month.
But the pallor hanging over the party isn't confined to Alaska. On Capitol Hill, Ted Stevens, the Senate's longest-serving Republican, and Young also are under federal investigation. Neither has been charged, and they are seeking re-election this year.
Stevens is being investigated for a remodeling project at his home. He has said he paid every bill presented to him but has declined to discuss the investigation further. Young is the subject of a federal investigation that includes his campaign finance practices.
At the state level, regional state GOP party chairman Joe Miller of Fairbanks is trying to unseat the state party chairman, Randy Ruedrich, at the convention, which ends Saturday.
Ruedrich paid the state's largest ethics fine after being exposed by Palin when both served on the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, long before she became governor.
Ruedrich admitted leaking a confidential memo to an energy company lobbyist and conducting partisan political activity from his state office. That led to a $12,000 penalty, believed to be the state's largest civil fine for an ethics case.
Ruedrich resigned from the commission in 2004, but he kept his position with the party and was re-elected chairman in 2006. He has declined to discuss Miller's efforts other than to say he has no plans to step down before his term expires in 2010.
The rift remains wide as Palin and Ruedrich have not spoken to each other since she became governor 16 months ago.
Parnell is a lawyer and former member of the Alaska Legislature. He served two terms in the House and one term in the Senate.
Running with Palin, Parnell was elected lieutenant governor in 2006.
He and his wife, Sandy, have been married for 20 years, and they reside in Anchorage with their two daughters.
Young began is political career in rural Alaska. Living in Fort Yukon, 145 miles northeast of Fairbanks, he worked as a teacher and a tug and barge captain. He was elected mayor in 1964. He held a state House seat from 1966 to 1970 and a state Senate seat from 1970 to 1973.
Young won his first term in the U.S. House in 1973, filling a vacancy left by the death of Democratic Rep. Nick Begich, who was killed in plane crash over Alaska with then-House Majority Leader Hale Boggs of Louisiana.