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Alaska's House candidates debate ahead of Aug. 26 primary

Alaska's candidates for Congress debated Monday night, with the Republicans squaring off over earmarks while the Democrats argued about experience.

Both Democrats acknowledged that they'd smoked marijuan. The question wasn't asked of the three Republicans.

Republican Lt. Gov Sean Parnell came out swinging against Congressman Don Young in his opening statement, saying "we're tired of being the nation's symbol of excess and greed.”

But Parnell didn’t have an answer when moderator Jason Moore asked him to list five Don Young earmarks he found objectionable. He brought up Young's controversial Coconut Road earmark in Florida, but didn't list any others Young authored.

Moore then asked Parnell to list three earmarks Young obtained for Alaska that he doesn't like.

"It's not a particular earmark in Alaska I'm concerned about. It's the abuse of the process,” Parnell replied.

Moore asked Young why he's spending more than a million dollars of his campaign money on legal fees. Young answered that it's expensive to have lawyers cooperate with the federal government in its investigation, and he doesn't have money of his own.

Moore pressed him on what's being investigated.

Young said he wouldn't comment on specifics, but that he's sure he'll be exonerated.

Young went after Parnell for claiming his campaign contributions come from individuals and not special interests. Young said $115,000 — about half of Parnell's campaign money — came as bundled contributions through the Washington D.C. anti-earmark group Club for Growth. The group is also funding its own ads against Young.

Young charged that the Club for Growth is "one of the most extreme groups in Washington D.C." and wants to cut funding for veterans and Alaska Native education, among other things.

Kodiak state Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux also targeted Parnell for supporting Gov. Sarah Palin's plan to give a license and $500 million state subsidy to TransCanada to pursue a natural gas pipeline.

"I would say that giving $500 million to a Canadian company is not getting government out of private enterprise," she said.

Parnell defended the plan as having improved Alaska's chances for a gas pipeline on the state's terms. He said he expects TransCanada will end up joining with the oil companies who hold the gas leases to make the project happen.

The two candidates competing in the Democratic primary for the House seat, Ethan Berkowitz and Diane Benson, also debated.

Benson came after Berkowitz on campaign contributions, charging him with receiving money from big tobacco, Veco executives and lobbyists.

Berkowitz said Benson is attempting to "make something out of nothing." He said he hasn't received any Veco contributions since 2000 and fought the company's influence when he was the minority leader of the state House.

"I stood up to them on the House floor," Berkowitz said, referring to a speech he gave blasting undue interference in the legislative process.

Benson countered that was after the corruption had taken root and the FBI was already in Juneau.

Berkowitz, for his part, asked Benson if she regretted running for governor on the Green Party ticket in 2002 and taking votes away from Democrat Fran Ulmer to help Republican Frank Murkowski get elected.

Benson said the few votes she got hadn't changed the outcome of the race. Murkowski beat Ulmer by 34,000 votes. Benson won just 2,926, according to the state division of elections.

One question the moderator asked the two Democrats, but not the three Republicans, is if they've ever smoked marijuana. Both Benson and Berkowitz said they have.

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