Great moments in gubernatorial debate history

Alaska Dispatch - September 20, 2010

Gubernatorial candidates met Monday at an Anchorage Chamber of Commerce debate and said basically the same things you've heard them say for the past few months about, pick one, the need for a gas line, tweaking oil taxes, fighting the federal government and so on.

Except for William S. "Billy" Toien, who you've probably never heard of and thus never heard anything he's had to say. He's the Libertarian candidate for governor and this is the first major debate he's been invited to. He often drew the biggest laughs from the audience, not necessarily because of his positions but because he's generally pretty funny. Especially his line about "national socialist jackboots ready to take over" if the Ls don't stop them.

So, no use regurgitating the same old same old here. Instead, here's some bullet point moments from the chamber lunch, featuring Toien, Democrat Ethan Berkowitz and Republican Sean Parnell:

-- An audience member wanted to know: are you supporting Joe Miller, Lisa Murkowski or Scott McAdams? Aaaaahh, the crowd let out a collective breath. They loved that one.

Berkowitz said he's worked well with Murkowski in the past and he likes McAdams. "Either one would be good by me," he said.

Toien: "Joe Miller. He supports the Second Amendment and the 10th Amendment."

Parnell acknowledged he's supporting Miller. Sort of. Although he couldn't seem to bring himself to say the guy's name. "I believe in the primary system," Parnell said, pointing out the obvious, which was he just won the primary himself. "I do support the party's nomination for the U.S. Senate."

-- Best moment(s). The candidates got to ask each other a question. Parnell attempted to link Berkowitz to a major Republican talking point: his support for the federal health care reform legislation, which was of course championed by President Barack Obama who was of course championed by Berkowitz during the 2008 election.

Berkowitz turned the moment into a heated vent against Parnell, saying he doesn't support forcing people to buy health insurance but he does support better access to health care -- and he certainly doesn't support Parnell's elimination of Denali KidCare. Furthermore, Berkowitz fumed, Parnell didn't need to keep throwing up health care and Obama "like some kind of schoolyard taunt."

"If you want to ask me my views on health care let's talk about it but you don't have to preface it by bringing up Obama's name," he lectured.

That smackdown may have had something to do with what happened next. Now it was Berkowitz' turn to ask Parnell a question. He pulled a white propane tank from behind his chair, barbecue grill size, with an "Ethan Berkowitz for Governor" campaign sticker plastered on the front, and hefted it onto the speakers' table. "This is the only natural gas that's been brought down from the North Slope, and we had to do it ourselves," he said (watch for the new TV spot coming tomorrow), calling the governor out on what little has been done to to bring Alaska gas to market.

A somewhat red-faced Parnell angrily stood up and lugged the tank off the table, dumping it on the floor behind him before touting his efforts toward a gas line and helping encourage more Cook Inlet natural gas production.

-- Score one for the Libertarians: "I'm a Libertarian and I'm opposed to taxes -- on business, industry and personal income," Toien declared. And then he pulled out his official Taxpayer Protection Pledge and signed it. Berkowitz agreed to witness it. So Toien pulled out another one and insisted Berkowitz sign his own pledge. Caught off guard, "Not today," Berkowitz finally said. Parnell allowed as to how he's already signed one. "I know," Toien said. "I checked."

-- Coming attractions: After the debate, Berkowitz gave reporters a sneak preview of his new TV commercial. It's filmed on the Slope and has Berkowitz slamming a three-wheeler through the mud with the aforementioned propane tank lashed down. Get it? He's bringing gas from the North Slope to civilization. (Outtakes of Ethan getting dumped in the mud? "Oh, there are some great outtakes," he said.)

Contact Patti Epler at patti(at)