Alaska News Nightly: October 13, 2010

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Former Fairbanks Mayor Comes Forward With Information About Miller
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
Former Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Jim Whitaker has come forward with some new information regarding U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller.

Whitaker has confirmed reports that Miller was nearly fired from his job as a borough attorney in 2008 after using borough computers in efforts to push Republican Party chair Randy Ruedrich out of his position.

Whitaker told the Fairbanks Daily News Miner on Wednesday that  Miller’s use of borough property violated the  Borough’s ethics policy. Miller was not fired at the time, he said, because  the borough needed Miller to continue working on legal action related to Trans-Alaska Pipeline System taxes. Miller later resigned from borough employment  2009.

Whitaker would not go on tape for this story, but he said he felt obligated to come forward with the information because of Miller’s head-on confrontation with Alaska reporters on Monday of this week. Whitaker said candidate Miller was not being truthful when he complained that reporters’ questions were based on lies and innuendo

“Referring to the truth as lies and innuendo is not truthful,” Whitaker said.

Questions regarding Miller’s separation from the Fairbanks North Star Borough surfaced in July.  The Miller campaign at the time released edited records from Miller’s personnel file to demonstrate that Miller resigned.

When asked why he had waited until now to come forward with the information, Whitaker answered that he was waiting to give Miller a chance to come forward himself.   “He’s not going to do that now,” Whitaker said, referring to Miller’s announcement Monday that he would not discuss his personal life with reporters.

Whitaker served as borough mayor from 2003-2009.  He said Miller gained access to borough computers in the days before the March 2008 convention of the Republican Party of Alaska.

The borough’s ethics policy states that “public facilities or employment are not be used for political activities while in work status.”

Randy DeSoto, Miller’s campaign manager did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Haines Candidate’s Ads May Have Broken State Rules
Tara Bicknell, KHNS – Haines
The state’s campaign watchdog agency is considering a complaint alleging wrongdoing by supporters of Haines Republican Representative Bill Thomas.  A blogger alleges a series of ads in Haines’ weekly newspaper broke state rules.

‘Virtual Education’ Booming in Sitka
Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka
The growth of “virtual education” in the state has spurred a building boom in Sitka. The Sitka campus of the University of Alaska Southeast is close to opening 19,000 square feet of additional classroom space, much of it wired with state-of-the-art tools for delivering distance education.  KCAW’s Robert Woolsey takes us on a brief tour.

Gubernatorial Teams Face Off in Fairbanks
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
Alaska’s opposing gubernatorial teams squared off in a forum sponsored by the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce yesterday. Incumbent Republican Sean Parnell and Lt. Governor Candidate Mead Treadwell and the Democratic team of Ethan Berkowitz and Diane Benson took turns responding to business related questions that spanned from resource development to education.  Treadwell said a Parnell administration will make the state more attractive to business.

Democratic Lt. Governor candidate Diane Benson said she and Berkowitz have initiatives to jumpstart business, from corporate income tax cuts, to a proposal that lets Alaskans invest a portion of their permanent fund in a gas pipeline.

Berkowitz, a former Democratic leader in the State House tried to cast himself as more than a party line politician.

The gubernatorial teams both stressed the importance of stemming the decline of oil production.  Parnell said that means being tough on some fronts and compromising on others.

Parnell said he’s open to several options for re-vamping the oil tax.

Berkowitz agreed oil taxation needs overhaul, but said a single system like the current ACES tax doesn’t foster development of all oil fields.

The candidates also answered questions about developing Alaska through education.  Both expressed strong support for the University of Alaska, but offered different visions for achieving success.  Parnell heralded the new incentive based scholarship program.

Parnell said similar scholarship programs have improved student performance in 20 plus other states.  Berkowitz addressed the educational approach…saying the focus needs to shift away from standardization and move toward teaching kids to think critically and help them stay in school till graduation.

Officials Visiting Mining Operations Near Fairbanks, Delta Junction
Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks
Officials from the Lake-Peninsula Borough in Southwestern Alaska, will visit mining operations near Fairbanks and Delta Junction this week to help them decide whether to support development of the controversial Pebble Mine.

Murkowski Officially Files For Write-In Candidacy
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
Lisa Murkowski officially filed to run a write-in campaign for U.S. Senate on Wednesday.  She submitted her declaration of candidacy to the Alaska Division of Elections in Anchorage.  Murkowski filed her paperwork in advance of the absentee and early voting in the state, but candidates have all the way up to five days before election day to become a write in candidate.  She’s listed as “Lisa Murkowski” and did not file any other monikers or nicknames with the Division of Elections.

In order for write-in ballots to be counted, voters have to not only write in the name of their candidate but fill in the oval next to that line.  Murkowski’s campaign has asked the Division of Elections for clear rules about what will count as a spelling of her name.  Both the Division’s director Gail Fenumiai and Lieutenant Governor Craig Campbell have said voter intent would likely be important, but have not given specific parameters for just how accurate a spelling would have to be.

Murkowski’s main opponents are Joe Miller, who defeated her in the Republican primary, and Democrat Scott McAdams.

Organization Committing to Change Alaska’s Subsistence Management
Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau
The Alaska Native Brotherhood is increasing its commitment to changing subsistence management in Alaska. The Southeast-based organization voted last week to spend more time and money to advocate for members’ traditional fishing and hunting rights.  As Coast Alaska’s Ed Schoenfeld reports, the move is prompted by recent high profile violations cases.

New Observer Requirements, Fees Move Closer to Approval
Matt Lichtenstein, KFSK – Petersburg
New observer requirements and fees for Alaska’s halibut fleet and smaller groundfish vessels are a step closer to approval.   As KFSK’s Matt Lichtenstein reports, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council unanimously passed a recommendation for restructuring the federal observer program last week.