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4/13/15 - National conservative group enters Anchorage local politics

Americans for Prosperity, a Virginia-based, Koch brothers-funded organization, says Anchorage needs a conservative mayor

By Zachariah Hughes, APRN

Major conservative political groups are stepping into the Anchorage mayor's race. The May runoff  between Amy Demboski and Ethan Berkowitz is drawing increasing attention from state and national organizations hoping to influence local politics.

Americans for Prosperity is a political group based in Virginia, backed by the Koch brothers, that advocates for conservative causes. Jeremy Price is the spokesman for the Alaska chapter, and says they don't endorse candidates, but will be informing Anchorage voters about their two choices for mayor.

"We've identified Ethan's record as one that's troubling, and we think will be devastating to the residents of Anchorage,” said Price.

Price says in the past Berkowitz has supported higher taxes and larger government. Americans For Prosperity is still developing a strategy for how to connect with voters, and Price says that will determine whether or not they're required to file financial disclosures with the Alaska Political Offices Commission. Price says their funding comes from both inside and outside of Alaska.

“We don't disclose who our donors are, but the longer our presence in Alaska is the more we receive donations from Alaskans,” said Price.

Political Action Groups are barred from coordinating with campaigns directly. However, the Demboski campaign appears to be drawing on the state's conservative political resources. Before winning the second slot in the runoff election, Demboski received endorsements from high-profile conservative politicians Mead Treadwell and Joe Miller. Now, Miller's former advisor Matt Johnson is working as Demboski's campaign manager. And, as of two weeks ago, she has brought on David Boyle to handle communications.  Boyle was the chairman for the 2008 McCain/Palin campaign in Alaska.

"And I believe,” said Boyle. “let's say that conservatives in this city--from fiscal conservatives to social conservatives--will see that there's a very distinct difference between Amy Demboski principals and policies, and her opponents' more liberal policies."

For the last several years Boyle has led the Alaska Policy Forum, a conservative think-tank that advises state legislators on issues like education and healthcare reform. The organization also publishes a controversial index of how much municipal employees are paid. The policy forum has received support in the past from a network of state-level groups promoting conservative public policy, and both local and national media have criticized the lack of transparency in the group’s own finances, which are reported to be linked to major Republican donors like the Koch brothers.

Boyle says this weekend the Demboski staff will be drafting policy points and a campaign strategy for the weeks ahead.

"As you know, the Assembly has a liberal majority on it, and I think we need some balance there,” said Boyle, “like we do with most areas of government, so I think we need a conservative mayor and Amy's gonna provide that conservative mayor."

The Berkowitz campaign is also receiving support from Political Action Groups, though they are more parochial and traditional players in local politics. Anchorage labor and public employee unions have donated to the Berkowitz campaign, and the National Education Association's Anchorage chapter is supporting him. The Alaska Democratic Party made robocalls and sent out emails to registered party members during the first phase of the election, and Communications Director Travis Smith says they'll continue to be involved in the runoff.

"We'll be contacting voters in a variety of ways, phoning and door-knocking, for example," said Smith.

The Berkowitz campaign disagrees with the claims about his record from Americans for Prosperity. Communications Manager Nora Morse says that during his time in the Legislature, Berkowitz was part of a bipartisan coalition that worked on budget solutions when oil was $9 a barrel.

"I think that's very interesting that Americans for Prosperity is playing in this mayor's race,” said Morse, “and the fact that they're coming in claiming to care what Anchorage voters want. When really Anchorage voters are talking about, number one, public safety, the city budget, and public education. And they haven't talked about any of those issues, and that raises some red flags."

Candidates were scheduled to meet April 14 with the officials from the union representing the Anchorage Police Department, who have so far not made any endorsements in the mayor's race.

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