Alaska News Nightly: September 22, 2010

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Murkowski Retains Position on Energy Committee
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
Senator Lisa Murkowski prevailed in Washington on Wednesday, hanging on to her job as the top Republican on the Energy Committee. As APRN’s Libby Casey reports, it was a surprising turn of events.

Miller Defends Acceptance of Federal Farm Subsidies
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks and Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller defends his acceptance of federal farm subsidies as just part of modern farming in America. The Alaska Dispatch reported this week that Miller received about $7,000 in federal agriculture subsidy checks during the 1990’s for a small farm he owned in his native Kansas. Miller, who’s critical of federal aid programs, says under the existing system, farmers don’t have a lot of choice.

Miller answered questions about the farm subsidies and other issues at a fundraiser in Fairbanks Tuesday night. Steve Wackowski is campaign spokesman for Lisa Murkowski, who is challenging Miller as a write in candidate. He says the farm subsidies are just another example of a politician who says, “do as I say, not as I do.”

The campaign for Democratic candidate Scott McAdams had much the same reaction. Campaign spokeswoman Heather Handyside says it makes Miller’s whole message less credible.

At his Fairbanks fundraiser last night, Miller said he is trying to raise $1 million for his campaign. He says the money is needed to fight the challenge of Democratic candidate Scott McAdams, and write in Lisa Murkowski.

Over 100 supporters gathered at his fundraiser last night.

Despite Different Methods, Gubernatorial Candidates Focus on Same Goal
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
The two major party candidates for governor faced each other in Juneau on Wednesday in a debate before the state Chamber of Commerce. Although there are differences coming to the front between Republican Sean Parnell and Democrat Ethan Berkowitz, and they propose different ways of conducting business, the candidates are focused toward the same goal – improving Alaska’s economy.

Students Rally Against Proposed Tuition Increase
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
University of Alaska students rallied today at the Anchorage campus against proposed college tuition hikes. UA Regents vote tomorrow on a 23 percent tuition increase.

Peter Finn represents the Coalition of Student Leaders. He’s traveling to Juneau to take the protest message to the regents.

Amie Stanley, a political science major at UAA, organized the demonstration in front of the Student Union on Wednesday afternoon. Stanley says the general student body only learned by email, on Tuesday, about the full amount of the tuition increase.

The tuition increase proposal would be effective in 2012 and would cost students more than $3,000 in additional tuition by the 2012 and 2013 academic year. The Coalition of Student Leaders and student governments of UAF, UAA and UAS have offered a counterproposal asking the Board of Regents to consider a 7 percent increase in 2013 in line with past increases and leave 2012 unchanged.

The Board of Regents begin meetings in Juneau Thursday to vote on the tuition increase proposal.

Alaska Native Corporation Leaders Meet About Proposed 8(a) Program Changes
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
The leadership of three Alaska Native Corporations, Southcentral’s Cook Inlet Region Incorporated or CIRI, Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, ASRC and interior’s Doyon Corporation collaborated on proposed changes to the Small Business Administration’s 8a program. 8a contracting allows small and minority owned businesses to engage in bidding on government contracts. There are special provisions in place for Alaska Native Corporations and other tribal businesses that have helped them garner millions in government contracts around the world. Some of those provisions for ANCs have drawn fire from other minority 8a contractors and members of congress. Congressional hearings have been held about the provisions.

The three ANC presidents sent a letter to SBA administrator Karen Mills last week, laying out what they’re calling an agenda for transparency, accountability and integrity. Doyon President Norman Phillips Jr. says the three corporate leaders do not see 8a as an entitlement. They realize change is inevitable and they want to help shape it.

Investigating Deadly Year in Alaska Aviation
Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage
19 people died in 10 fatal crashes in Alaska from January through the end of August this year. That number is a big jump from the average number of deadly crashes – six- for the same months in the years from 2005 to 2009. A new study from the Alaska Department of Health tallies those numbers and tries to explain why this year has been so deadly in the aviation industry. Mary O’Connor, with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in Anchorage wrote the report. She says the accident investigations are still ongoing, but there’s one factor that may play a significant role in many of the crashes.

O’Connor said until this year, the number of fatal crashes had been steadily decreasing. She says improved safety equipment is available and commercial air carriers and pilots have gotten better at minimizing their exposure to risks.

Man Safe After Fishing Vessel Sinks
Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka
A Wrangell man is safe after his fishing vessel sank in Sitka Sound early Tuesday morning. The 44-foot Zimovia sank off of Kulichkof Rock, six nautical miles south of Sitka shortly after midnight.

Discovery Channel Suing ‘Time Bandit’ Operators
Aaron Selbig, KBBI – Homer
Although king crab season doesn’t kick off until next month, Homer’s most famous fishermen are in perilous waters. Captains Jonathan and Andy Hillstrand – operators of the FV Time Bandit – are being sued for $3-million by the same TV network that made them famous.

Rare Grass Parka Residing in Rasmuson Center
Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage
At the Anchorage museum at the Rasmuson Center, a woven grass parka has a place of honor in the atrium. It’s one of few in the world, in part because weaving a grass parka is time consuming – it can take three to four months to make a single parka. The grass is collected when it’s tall and green, and dried.