Primary sets stage for fall elections to control state Senate

Becky BohrerAssociated Press

This month's primary is the warm-up for the main political event in Alaska this year: fall elections that will help decide control of the state Senate.

Some Republicans, including the state GOP chairman and Gov. Sean Parnell, want to break up the Senate's current bipartisan majority, in which Democrats outnumber Republicans 10-6. There are four minority members in the 20-seat chamber. The state House is firmly in GOP control, and that's not likely to change.

The coalition has been used by some of this year's GOP challengers as they seek to cast themselves as the more-conservative alternative to Republican incumbents. For candidates like Mike Dunleavy, Jeff Landfield and David Eastman -- the latter is in a three-way primary for an open Senate seat that sprawls from Fairbanks to Valdez -- it speaks to philosophy, and whether their call for more limited government and greater fiscal restraint can be accomplished with Democrats in control.

None of the three ruled out the possibility of joining a Republican-led bipartisan caucus or working across party lines on certain issues.

"Republicans and Democrats working together isn't the problem," said Sen. Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, and chairman of the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee. "It's the solution to the problems in Alaska."

Three of the Senate's 18 contested seats will be decided in the Aug. 28 primary, and all will stay in Republican hands as there are no Democratic challengers. They include Senate District D, where Dunleavy, the Matanuska-Susitna School Board president, is mounting an aggressive challenge to first-term Sen. Linda Menard, R-Wasilla, and Senate District O, where Soldotna Mayor Peter Micciche ended the July reporting period with more cash on hand than Sen. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai. The third race involves Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, and Joe Arness from Kenai.

Menard and Wagoner are each coalition members, with Wagoner having joined last year. It's an association he has mixed feelings about, saying he'd prefer to not be in a coalition "the way it worked last time."

Wagoner said he found it difficult to work within, even "dysfunctional" at times, and considered his pairing with Sen. Joe Paskvan, D-Fairbanks, as co-chair of the Senate Resources Committee "counterproductive," a complaint he publicly aired during this year's hearings on oil taxes.

While Menard said in her election pamphlet statement she will approach legislation from a "conservative perspective," her opponent, Dunleavy, won the endorsement of the Wasilla-based, tea party-style Conservative Patriots Group.

Landfield, a political newcomer, is challenging Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, in Senate District K, another closely watched race. McGuire, a coalition member, said the Senate has been "a place of gridlock recently on two issues that will define our future," oil taxes and commercialization of natural gas.

"For me and most Alaskans, party is not the main issue," she said. "It's the person and their philosophy. I would like to serve in an organization with senators that have people in key leadership positions that are pro-business and pro-development and pro-Alaskan."

Landfield has labeled McGuire a "career politician" and part of what he sees as the spending problem in Juneau.

McGuire raised more money through July than Landfield but both have been aggressively campaigning, with Landfield going door-to-door for a couple hours each night after work.

Associated Press