Newest Bush legislator to join with Democrats in Juneau

Kyle Hopkins

Alaska political junkies, meet Neal Foster of Nome: pilot, Stanford grad, marathoner.

Here is the part you'll care about most -- as the region's newest legislator he plans to team up with Democrats rather than Republicans.

House Democrats confirmed Foster on Sunday as the replacement for his father, Rep. Richard Foster, who died in October. Like several rural lawmakers the elder Foster was a registered Democrat but regularly voted with Republicans in the House majority.

The younger Foster says he's joining the smaller Democratic caucus instead.

"Our district is predominately Democrats, and I think I just have a lot of the same beliefs and values as Democrats," he said.

For example, Foster favors a rural preference for subsistence hunting and fishing.

Sunday's confirmation means Democrats expand their minority caucus to 15 members and clinch an additional seat on the House Finance Committee, said House Minority Leader Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau.

Foster will serve the remainder of his father's term, about one year, and is already planning to file for re-election. The Western Alaska district stretches from Hooper Bay to Nome.

"It's my intent to call the leaders from every single community in our district over the next week or so to make sure that I introduce myself and to make sure that they feel like they can call me," he said.

Asked if joining the Democrats could hurt his region's chances of getting money for construction projects -- one reason a Bush lawmaker might partner with the majority -- Foster said that's something he'll have to consider.

As the son of a veteran legislator and a regional leader who regularly visited Juneau, Foster said he's built good relationships with lawmakers in both parties.

"I'm really hoping ... that will help to continue to keep the funding in our district at least the current levels," he said.

Foster sits on the Bering Straits Native Corp. board and is a member of the Nome City Council. He survived a crushing snowmachine accident north of Nome in 2003. In January he plans to run in a two-day challenge at Disney World that includes a half-marathon one day and a full marathon the next.

He said he graduated from Stanford University with a bachelor's degree in political science, including a six-month stint at Oxford studying legal philosophy, and received a bachelor's of business and administration finance from the University of Alaska Anchorage.

In the House he plans to focus on job creation through resource development, particularly mining and fishing, education and fighting drug and alcohol abuse, Foster said.

The Finance Committee writes the budget and, Kerttula said, oversees most of the high-profile bills making their way through the Legislature. It's unclear who among the House Democrats will get the minority's additional committee seat, she said.

Foster will be seriously considered for the job but didn't asked for it in return for joining the caucus, she said.

Gov. Sean Parnell chose Foster among three candidates suggested to fill the vacant House seat by Democrats. A majority of Democrats had to confirm the appointment before Foster could be sworn in, which Foster said could happen as early as today.

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