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50 Days to Election Day: Races in Alaska

With 50 days until Election Day, it is time to go state-by-state around the Nation and see where it looks as if things will end up. In the past (2010), I did the same thing although I simply went east to west. This time out, I will start out west and skip around a bit with the swing states discussed last and nearer to the election. Also, unlike last time, ballot questions will be discussed with respect to each state.

Starting in a non-controversial state, an thus one of the shorter entries of this series- will be Alaska. Here, there is only one race for the at-large US House seat currently held by Republican Don Young. He has held this seat since 1972. He will face off against Sharon Cissna, a state legislator, who won in a crowded Democratic field in their primary. In a sense, her victory came as a slight surprise since there were two other candidates that garnered attention prior to the primary. Cissna’s voting record in the Alaska House indicates an environmental, pro-choice philosophy. She did use the Obama-when-a-state-senator strategy of not voting, or voting “present” on certain controversial bills, including one no-brainer regarding parental notification for abortions.

Cissna has her job cut out for her since Don Young is well-known and well-funded. As of this date, Young has out-raised Cissna $782,000 to $6,600. In effect, Democrats have essentially conceded this race to the Republicans and Don Young.

That being said, there is some internal controversy regarding Don Young. Namely, Young has taken the extraordinary step of injecting himself in another state’s politics- Hawaii- and endorsed the Senatorial candidacy of Democrat and current House member Mazie Hirono over Republican Linda Lingle, or so it would appear. In the advertisement, Young asserts that Hirono does not speak bipartisanship, she acts it. He ends the commercial with, “Mazie- Hawaii needs you.” To put this in perspective, Hawaii and Alaska have always had some sense bipartisan friendship since being admitted to the Union. There is a certain affinity based on the large populations of their native peoples. Former Senator Ted Stevens used to refer to Daniel Inouye, for example, as his “brother.”

Even still, it is highly unusual for someone from one party to endorse a candidate from another party in a race in another state. After the resulting uproar, Young tried to backtrack a little and said the endorsement was only for Hirono in her Democratic primary race against Ed Case. For her part, Linda Lingle called out Young for the endorsement. Listening to the commercial, it certainly sounds like an endorsement for Hirono in the general election, not in the primary as Young now claims. Lingle also questioned Young’s ethics problems.

In fact, Young barely won a ethics panel investigation when they determined that he was playing within the rules, but that his actions prove that the rules needed to be changed. Young has been implicated in at least four questionable ethics probes. The most disturbing involves a $10 million earmark for a small stretch of highway in Florida known as Coconut Road. It later became known that one of the developers of that road had made a $40,000 contribution to Young. He has also been linked to the Abramoff scandal, taking unethical contributions from Louisiana interests and possibly taking bribes from an Anchorage company- VECO. It would appear that as a result of his longevity in the House, Young has learned to game the rules and skirt their edges.

Additionally, Young is considered a moderate on most issues, although conservative on the social ones. When it comes to labor issues, he usually votes with the Democrats and was one of only 13 Republicans to vote for Card Check legislation. He is also one of the biggest pork barrel spenders and is implicated in the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere.”

In short, Don Young is a necessary evil in this year’s election. He exemplifies the arrogance of long-tenured representatives with too much power relative to the size of the state in terms of population. For my money, that concerns me less than his ethical problems, pork barrel spending, and views on union rights. Sooner or later, a stronger Democratic challenger than Cissna will come along and exploit his weaknesses. No doubt, Young will likely win this year, but it would behoove the Republican Party in Alaska to look for a serious replacement. One thing to look for will be his margin of victory. If it is low relative to his clout and spending, it spells trouble. Which begs the question- where are you Joe Miller?

There are two questions on the ballot. The first asks whether a state constitutional convention should be convened. This is required every ten years by the existing constitution and was defeated in 2002. The other question is a general obligation bond issue for transportation projects in the state not to exceed $453.5 million. In a state that has not seen population growth of tremendous proportions and that receives large amounts of funds from the federal government, it begs the question as to whether a half a billion dollars of additional debt is necessary. Also, many of the projects listed as “worthy” are not transportation projects. Yes- there are renovations to the airport in Anchorage and some road and seaway projects, but included in the worthy category are also development of some cultural arts centers and even a ski-teaching resort. That is the problem with specific bond issues- the spending often drifts out of the intended category. It is like using proceeds of a gasoline tax to balance a state budget or divert the funds to Medicaid rather than use those proceeds for bridges, roads and other transportation infrastructure improvements.

In terms of Presidential politics, Mitt Romney will win Alaska.

To summarize: Young wins the at-large seat and Romney wins Alaska. To date, the Senate is 1-1, the House 1-0 Republican, and Romney leads in electoral votes 3-0.

Next: Tomorrow 9/18/12- Hawaii.

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