State Sen. Hollis French has filed to run for governor

Democratic Alaska state Sen. Hollis French has announced his intentions to run for governor against Gov. Sean Parnell. French filed papers with the Division of Elections on Tuesday. He’s “strongly leaning towards it,” but as of yet it’s a preliminary move to see how deep his support runs in the state, French said.

If he does run, he’ll cede his Senate seat, which is up in 2014. So far, only Republican Rep. Mia Costello has filed to run for that seat.

French, a former oil field worker and Anchorage prosecutor, has been a legislator since 2002. In the field of ever-shrinking Democratic lawmakers, he’s been known to be one of the most outspoken. He played a large role in the Sarah Palin saga known as “troopergate.”  Since, he’s been particularly critical of Parnell’s oil tax break. As a member of what was formerly a bipartisan majority in the Senate, French did support oil tax reform, but fought hard against Parnell’s attempts at cutting taxes for the big three oil companies in the legacy fields.

With a Republican majority in the Senate, Parnell got his bill passed during the last legislative session, cutting taxes up to $650 million to more than $1 billion a year at current projected prices and at current production. The companies have said that such relief will help stem the decline of Alaska’s largest oil fields and incentivize production of the smaller fields.

French, however, sees it as a give away. If he runs and is elected, that’s the first thing he will try to undo.

“There’s a way to reform oil taxes that benefits both the state and industry in a business-like manner,” he said. He’s particularly critical of doing away with the windfall tax, commonly called progressivity, which increased taxes based on the price of oil.

“It was an enormous give for what we got in exchange,” he said. “We got nothing.”

French would also forward fund education, and accept federal money to expand Medicaid, something that Parnell has been on the fence about. Not accepting the money, is “as wrong as wrong can be,” French said, citing the harmful effects that not accepting the funds could have on Alaskans and particularly on small businesses.

“There are tens of millions of free dollars to the state that he’s turned his back on,” French said.

It’s unclear what effect French’s move will have on the nascent movement to draft the other outspoken Democratic senator, Bill Wielechowski, to run with independent candidate Bill Walker. Pollster Ivan Moore has been pushing the ticket, and has warned that it’s all but doomed if a Democrat runs.

French declined to comment on Wielechowski’s role in the race, but he did say that he thinks an independent running helps him. He pointed to 1994, when former Gov. Knowles squeaked with a win, beating the Republican candidate Jim Campbell by only 536 votes. In that race, Lt. Governor Jack Coghill ran on the Alaskan Independence Party ticket and received 13 percent of the vote. Had Coghill not been in the race, many of those votes would have likely gone to Campbell.

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