JUNEAU -- GOP lieutenant governor candidates Sen. Lesil McGuire and Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan squared off for the first time at a forum Saturday morning at the state Republican Party convention.
The two mostly stuck to their own messages, and promised to stick to the "11th Commandment," popularized by Ronald Reagan -- Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican -- for the duration of the campaign.
But each tried to draw a few distinctions, with Sullivan highlighting his executive experience and McGuire touting her successes in the Legislature.
The two are running for Alaska's second highest elected position, which comes with little direct power outside of supervision of state elections and the state seal. The lieutenant governor also takes over if the governor leaves office, which is how Sean Parnell was elevated to the post.
The contest between McGuire and Sullivan has been simmering for the last month, as McGuire worked in the Alaska Senate to stymie Sullivan's efforts to use state grant money to build indoor tennis courts in Anchorage.
Last month's tennis fight generated some sharp comments from McGuire and put Sullivan on the defensive but tension was largely absent from Saturday's forum, in which each candidate was given 10 minutes for an opening speech, followed by 60 seconds to answer a series of questions.
McGuire spoke first, saying that she's running because the state's best years "are yet to come," and adding that Sullivan had done "an exceptional job at the local level."
Then, she described her efforts to pass natural resources legislation, like the tax credit bill she sponsored for companies investing in natural gas development in Cook Inlet.
She also tied herself to Gov. Sean Parnell, recounting how he ticked off several legislative accomplishments in a speech on Friday -- from pushing for reductions in payroll taxes to changing the state's oil tax regime.
"Every single one of the principles that he articulated, and the successes, I had some role in," McGuire said.
One of her only digs at Sullivan was her claim that he had been asking for natural gas imports from Indonesia, which she called "politically unstable and a country with religious ties to Islam."
Sullivan afterwards said he wasn't sure what McGuire was referring to but acknowledged that some utilities had examined imports when Cook Inlet natural gas supplies appeared short. Anchorage owns its own electrical utility, Municipal Light and Power.
"You have to have contingency plans," Sullivan said.
Sullivan, who described himself as a "lifelong, fourth-generation Alaskan," opened his speech with a lengthy description of his family's history -- including his father George Sullivan's 14 years as Anchorage mayor.
Sullivan also recounted his father's career as a deputy U.S. marshal in Nenana, where he said his mother was a U.S. commissioner, "which meant that he would arrest 'em, she would try 'em."
"The Sullivans knew how to do justice back in the day," he said.
He characterized himself as the "Anti-Begich," referring to U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, who was Sullivan's predecessor as Anchorage mayor -- and who has been the favored punching bag of politicians and attendees at the convention.
Sullivan claimed credit for several of Anchorage's accomplishments, including the city's recent budget surpluses, and a recently boosted bond rating.
He also challenged McGuire to abide by Reagan's commandment; she told a reporter after the forum that she would.
In response to questions from moderator Ben Brown, the communications coordinator for the Capital City Republicans, both Sullivan and McGuire also laid out their positions on education -- an area where both acknowledged the lieutenant governor has little clout aside from a bully pulpit.
McGuire said she thought that the Legislature should have looked more deeply at a proposed constitutional amendment this year that would have allowed public money to go to private and religious schools.
"Why should only wealthy children have choice?" she asked. "Competition is what makes American great."
Sullivan agreed, adding that he thought teachers could use more rigorous training, and comparing American training programs to those in Finland, which often ranks highly in education surveys.
Sullivan said that American teacher's degrees are "often the second degree choice, not the first degree choice."
"I think in America, it's not the first choice when people go to college, right?" Sullivan said afterwards. "Maybe they want to go into engineering or something and realize, 'OK, that's harder than I thought it was -- I'll get a teaching degree."
Both candidates referred attendees to their websites; Sullivan even made a pitch for money and volunteers.
The lieutenant governor campaign is starting to heat up heading into the August primary. Sullivan said he is opening a campaign office within the next week on Northern Lights Boulevard in Anchorage. McGuire's campaign expects to sign a lease next week.
Other lieutenant governor candidates include Democrats Hollis French and Bob Williams, and Craig Fleener, running as an independent.
Reach Nathaniel Herz at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4311.
By NATHANIEL HERZ