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Three joust in battle for Hillside Alaska Senate seat

Rosemary Shinohara

Another lively Senate campaign is taking place in Anchorage besides the one dominating the news.

On the Hillside, three candidates are in a high-spending, politically charged race for an open state Senate seat. The outcome will affect who holds power in the Senate.

The race is contentious.

Cathy Giessel, a nurse practitioner and former Republican Party state vice chair, says her Democratic opponent is beholden to unions.

Democrat Janet Reiser, a chemical engineer and Chugach Electric Association board member, says Giessel is too extreme.

A third candidate, non-affiliated Phil Dziubinksi, a career oil company manager, says his opponents are both stained by party politics.

District P covers the most territory of any Anchorage state Senate seat for Anchorage: Hiland Road in Eagle River, parts of the Anchorage Hillside, and Turnagain Arm, including Indian and Girdwood, plus Whittier and Hope.

This is a big money fight for a legislative seat. Giessel and Reiser each reports raising about $140,000. Dziubinski is spending $150,000 of his own money.

The voters' verdict on who wins could determine whether the Senate is split 10-10 between Republicans and Democrats, as now, or 11-9 favoring the Democrats. If Giessel wins and no other seats change hands, the 10-10 split stays. If Reiser wins and no other Democrat loses, the split could be 11-9.

Will the outcome in District P make a practical difference in who controls the Senate? Maybe not. A bipartisan coalition runs the Senate now, and Reiser, the Democrat, pledges to only work with a bipartisan group if elected.

Giessel hasn't made a commitment to join a coalition or organize only with Republicans. "I'm waiting to see what happens in the election."

A REPUBLICAN HISTORY

District P has long belonged to Republicans. The incumbent, Con Bunde, held the seat since 2002 but decided not to run this year. When he announced his decision in March, he said he had been frustrated by his role in a four-member minority.

Bunde said this week he's happy there are three viable candidates trying to succeed him. But the candidates don't sound at all happy with each other.

A Reiser TV ad posted on her Web site shows a photo of Giessel with tea party-backed U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller, and says Giessel "has the same extreme views as Joe Miller."

Giessel says that's off base. "I'm not endorsing anybody else but me."

In turn, Giessel criticizes Reiser's union support.

In a debate on public radio and TV last week, Giessel cited about $24,000 in contributions from union groups to Reiser, and the fact that NEA-Alaska PACE -- a statewide teachers union group -- is independently spending about $60,000 on Reiser's behalf.

"It looks like you've kind of been bought and paid for by these unions, and that's concerning," Giessel told Reiser.

Reiser said in an interview that she has more than 500 contributors. She's gotten money from white collar and blue collar unions, from teachers to ironworkers. Of the union groups, she said, "These are not goons. These are political action committees -- people that voted to support me."

THE THIRD CANDIDATE

Dziubinski said the other two are engaged in "a battle of political ideology."

Dziubinski, 60, retired in June from an oil industry career mostly with BP. He was compliance and ethics leader for BP Exploration Alaska from 2006 to 2010. He's lived in the state four years.

He decided to spend some of his retirement money to run a viable campaign, he said, due to a "sense of outrage, of frustration over how things are run. The budget that came out this year ... was way too high. We have a Legislature that's addicted to oil revenue."

Dziubinski said even if oil were discovered today in the Chukchi Sea, it would take years to get it to the Alaska oil pipeline to replace declining Prudhoe Bay oil. The state needs to manage its money conservatively in the meantime, he said.

BOOSTING OIL

All three candidates said the state should tighten spending.

Giessel, 58, has connections to former Gov. Sarah Palin and Gov. Sean Parnell. Palin appointed Giessel to a council to advise on statewide health initiatives. Giessel was field coordinator in Parnell's 2008 run for Congress.

Among her positions:

She believes the state's main oil tax needs to be revised to provide more incentives for development. She opposes the federal health care law. She thinks the state should examine strings that come with any federal education money.

"We just went through No Child Left Behind (federal education law) and found that program doesn't work in Alaska. Our commissioner of education has declined some education funds recently. That's the kind of scrutiny that needs to be happening."

Reiser, 55, says her experience in private business makes her stand out. She was president of NANA Pacific, which designs and builds projects around the world, from 2001 to 2006, when she went out on her own. In 2009 she was chief operating officer of a company that is using a $25 million federal stimulus grant to bring high-speed Internet service to 53 Southwest Alaska villages.

Reiser was elected to the Chugach Electric board of directors in 2008.

She said she understands the complexities of what needs to be done to promote petroleum exploration and investment. Like Dziubinski and Giessel, she said the state's main oil tax needs revision.

"It's not getting the results we want," Reiser said during the public TV debate. "We need to have not only a stable tax structure, but an inviting tax structure."

Find Rosemary Shinohara online at adn.com/contact/rshinohara or call her at 257-4340.

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By ROSEMARY SHINOHARA
rshinohara@adn.com