When Eric Croft was but a lad, his dad was running for governor. Against an Alaska icon in the making, Gov. Jay Hammond.
Those were exciting times. The trans-Alaska pipeline was starting up. Oil money was about to flood the state. Hammond's vision for the Permanent Fund, and a public dividend, was just over the horizon.
Eric's father, Chancy, was in the thick of it all. A member of the state Senate. The Democratic Party's nominee, by a whisker, for the governor's race in 1978.
A background made for politics?
"I told him very clearly that I wasn't going to go into politics," Eric Croft said recently. "I was serious when I said it."
Croft, a 44-year-old father of two and husband of Joanna, is in the thick of a May 5 runoff election to be Anchorage's next mayor. A 10-year veteran of the state House, he was an unsuccessful candidate in 2006 for the Democratic Party's gubernatorial nomination, losing to former Gov. Tony Knowles.
His years in the Legislature were spent in the minority, slogging uphill on the judiciary and finance committees in a House dominated by Republicans.
Croft said that was instructive. Learning to work across party lines effectively meant learning how things worked.
"Early on in finance, it was getting frustrating," Croft said in a recent interview.
"I was pushing against it and not getting much. And I got good advice to just step back. ... I just spent a lot of time becoming an expert in the budget, and that paid dividends. After a while, when I'd start to speak about it, the Republican members understood that I was knowledgeable ... and that led to more cooperation."
One of the Republican Finance Committee members during Croft's stay in Juneau was Kevin Meyer, an Anchorage Republican and a former Assembly member. Meyer supports Croft's opponent, Dan Sullivan, in the mayor's race.
"His job was to represent the whole minority (on the Finance Committee)," Meyer said of Croft. "Typically, he would bring up amendments to add money ... mostly social programs. I'm not sure if that was Eric Croft, or if he was just making them on behalf of the minority.
"I did not see him as someone who was interested in reducing spending," Meyer continued. "Money was tight, and we were trying to keep spending down."
Democrat Harry Crawford, another Anchorage House member, was an ally. The two partnered in pushing a series of voter initiatives -- for a reserves tax intended to encourage North Slope producers to develop natural gas, for campaign finance reform, for a law taking the power to fill vacancies in U.S. Senate seats away from the governor and calling for special elections instead.
What kind of mayor would Croft make?
"I don't know so much about the management abilities, being somebody's boss," said Crawford, adding that he's known Croft as a legislative colleague. "I just know that Eric, he's the guy with the big idea. The person that I think of that's most like that was Jay Hammond -- I'd say Eric Croft has a real Jay Hammond style."
FRIENDS ON BOTH SIDES
Crawford describes Croft as an intelligent guy who found ways to influence legislation by finding and securing common ground, even with staunch adversaries.
"Majority members would come and ask him for advice on how to get things done, how to move things through the chain," Crawford said. "He always worked with everybody. There was not a single person in the Legislature who did not count Eric Croft as a friend."
Croft said he thinks he can take that kind of consensus building into City Hall if he's elected, and into his dealings with the Anchorage Assembly, the city's legislative body.
"The Assembly, to me, feels very comfortable because I lived in that environment for a long time," he said. "And in particular, across the aisle, Dan Coffey is someone you can do business with. That's his forte really. He's excellent at putting deals together and he likes doing it."
Croft is an attorney by profession. He spent two years clerking for a federal judge and an Alaska Supreme Court justice and a couple of years in private practice before winning election to the Legislature. He owns a small business, Alaska Professional Testing, and has spent the last two years working as an assistant city prosecutor handling drunken driving and simple assault cases.
BACKED SALES, INCOME TAXES
He has focused his campaign for mayor on taxes -- the ones he says he wouldn't support and that he argues his opponent, Sullivan, would.
As a legislator, Croft worked for both state sales and income taxes at a time when oil was selling for less than $20 a barrel and state finances were tight.
At the time, he said, "a group of us, bipartisan, Democrats and Republicans, decided to just put everything on the table. ... We put forth a sales and an income tax proposal. The sales (tax) ended up moving a little bit and then dying. But both were discussed."
Bad ideas, in hindsight, Croft says now.
"In talking about those issues since and in looking at the impacts they have on working Alaskans, I've become convinced both are a bad idea," he said.
Croft said that's something that distinguishes him from his opponent, Dan Sullivan. Sullivan has authored and supported unsuccessful sales tax proposals in the past, all rejected either at the Assembly level or at the polls by voters.
"He continues to want to push a sales tax when voters have clearly said they don't want one," Croft said. "He's not learning from that experience."
EMPATHY FOR LOW INCOME PEOPLE
Croft said city government under his stewardship would be leaner and more efficient.
He advocates finding ways to combine some city and School District services -- greenskeeping, snowplowing and maintenance among them. That's an idea that has been discussed often but never implemented. Croft said he could do better.
"There are a couple million dollars in savings in those areas," he said.
Croft also wants to increase the city's exemption level on homeowners' property values for tax purposes. Instead of exempting 10 percent of a home's value, up to a maximum $20,000, Croft would push for 20 percent, up to a maximum $50,000.
"The vast majority of homeowners would get a tax break, and they'd get much more of a tax break by doing that than if you just spread it across the board," he said.
Croft also said both city government and the School District "have gotten too heavy in the middle," meaning there's room to cut spending at mid-management levels. Croft said he would trim the city's waistline and encourage the School Board and Superintendent Carol Comeau to do the same.
Like most candidates at any level, Croft lists public safety and education as priorities. Close behind is public transportation.
In 1998, Croft was one of several state executives and lawmakers who tried to walk in the shoes of lower income Alaskans for a monthlong program called "Walk a Mile." Living on a food-stamp equivalent budget, getting around on the People Mover, learning how to make do with less. He also was the day-care provider for his daughter, Shannon, a toddler at the time.
"What was a big surprise to me was how difficult it is to do three or four things in a day with a child, on the bus," Croft said when asked about that experience. "I'm carrying around a baby trying to get to a committee meeting on a bus schedule. ...
"I have to confess I gave up -- I stayed on the food (budget) but gave up on the bus after two weeks. It made me realize a number of things but one of them was, you have to have a bus system that people can actually get around and do more than two things in a day."
• Party affiliation: Alaska Democrat
• Date of birth: Nov. 6, 1964
• Occupation: Municipal prosecutor (left city employment in December to campaign)
• Employment history: Anchorage municipal prosecutor 2007-2008; state House of Representatives 1997-2007; founder and owner of Alaska Professional Testing Inc. 1994-2005; associate attorney at Hedland, Brennan & Heideman 1994-1996; clerk to state Supreme Court Justice Allen Compton 1993-1994; clerk to federal District Judge James Fitzgerald 1992-1993.
• Previous public office held: Alaska House Representative, 1997-2007
• Previous unsuccessful runs for office: Governor, 2006.
• Education: Hastings College of the Law, Juris Doctor 1992; Stanford University, bachelor’s of electrical engineering, 1986.
• Spouse name: Joanna
• Children: Shannon, 10, and Burke, 8
• Web site: www.ericcroft.com
• E-mail: email@example.com