Gov. Sean Parnell has experience watching Alaska politics take center stage on the national front. This time around, however, he watches from the governor’s chair as the drama unfolds.
Unlike that other race that has captured national attention, the gubernatorial race he wages against Democratic candidate Ethan Berkowitz has received far less notice.
Parnell says it is not for lack of trying. He points to the number nine; the number of media interviews he did just last week. He also points to the number 18; how many debates he will have completed by Election Day.
The race for governor is finally heating up, as highlighted by the new ads being seen and heard.
Those ads include Parnell’s campaign slogan “Actions, not words,” which is at least partially directed at his opponent.
“Ethan Berkowitz cannot run from his record,” Parnell said, calling him an environmentalist at heart.
Parnell points to different scores Berkowitz has received from different organizations based on his legislative record. Berkowitz received a score of 86 percent from the Alaska Conservation Voters (ACV), an organization that describes themselves as the political voice for the environment.
The Democratic candidate also scored a 33 percent with the Alaska National Federation of Independent Business (ANFIB) in 2006 and earned a 50 percent rating with the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce in 2004.
These organizations call themselves the voice of small business and the voice of Alaska business, respectively.
But there is no direct comparison for Parnell because, although he did receive their endorsement for this election, he has not received a rating from ANFIB since 2000. In the same year he received a 15 percent score from ACV.
Parnell said his opponent’s record, as reflected by those scores, proves Berkowitz would not provide an atmosphere for business growth. This, according to Parnell, is the reason UAA students should vote for Parnell.
“When (students) come out with an education, they will have a place here where we want to grow jobs.”
Education is a key area of focus for Parnell’s campaign.
One way to improve the overall quality of education at UAA is to better prepare high school students for college, thereby lessening the need for remedial training at UAA, said the governor. Improving college preparedness in high school graduates is an issue he has brought up often.
Earlier this year, Parnell passed legislation producing the Alaska Merit Scholarships. The scholarship program, available next school year, requires students to take specific courses that are not necessarily mandated by their school, as well as setting minimum test scores and grade point averages students must meet to qualify.
He also supports Proposition B, a ballot measure that calls for funding for schools and libraries across the state. The measure, set for a vote on Nov. 2, includes an appropriation for $60 million for a new athletic facility at UAA.
Another hot issue this Election Day is gay and lesbian civil unions, which Parnell does not support. His reasoning is derived from the amendment added to the Alaska Constitution in 1998 that specifically defined marriage between one man and one woman.
“Our society was built on marriage between a man and a woman,” he said.
Parnell also said a power of attorney provides for legal and medical needs for gay and lesbian couples.
Parnell’s campaign has also focused on his advocacy on issues, such as domestic violence and suicide prevention. He has increased funding and programs for both causes, but calls for personal responsibility as well.
For example, at a recent forum he said parents should be talking to their children about suicide.
“It’s scary, but we need to do it,” he said.
But perhaps one of the biggest issues in the campaign is, of course, resource and energy development in Alaska.
Parnell criticizes his opponent’s “Alaskan Ownership Stake” plan, labeling it a government takeover.
Leaving the pipeline and other developments to the private sector is Parnell’s vision.
He sums up his opposition this way:
“If you love Alaska and you love your freedom, I’m your guy,” Parnell said.
Parnell currently holds a double-digit lead over Berkowitz, according to a recent poll. That lead has steadily decreased in the weeks leading up to the election, perhaps reflecting the attention that this important race is finally receiving.