Alaska News Nightly: November 17, 2010

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Murkowski Declares Victory
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
Lisa Murkowski has stood up to Republican Party nominee Joe Miller to become the first person in 56 years – and the first woman ever – to win a write-in campaign for a seat in the U.S. Senate.

Victory was certain last night when the hand-count of write-in ballots put Murkowski ahead by 10,400 votes.

The Senator travelled to Anchorage today where she is scheduled to meet reporters a little before 6 p.m. – and where she will likely declare herself the victor.

The margin between the candidates’ vote tallies is more than the 8,153 ballots challenged by Miller’s observers of the count.  Miller has said that under such conditions, he would not pursue any legal action over the spelling and handwriting issues his campaign had raised during the counting process.

However, Miller has rekindled the issue of voting irregularities, attempting to raise doubts about the integrity of the election. He questions the accuracy of the count of the ballots with which he was credited – his staff  at one point telling reporters in Juneau that he would ask for a hand-count of all 192,000 ballots cast in the race.  A statement released this afternoon indicates that he will only review some precinct logs the state has offered to provide.

Even without the challenged ballots, the margin of votes does not qualify for an automatic, free recount of the ballots.  Those are done by computer, not by hand.

McCaskill Taking Aim at 8(a) Contracts
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill is taking aim at the special breaks given to Alaska Native Corporations seeking federal contracts.  She introduced a bill Wednesday that she says will “crack down on waste and abuse in contracting.”  But Alaska Native Corporations are calling her efforts “misguided” and an “assault on Native enterprises.”

McCaskill’s bill would stop the Alaska Native Corporations, or ANCs, from receiving sole source contracts over three and a half million dollars.  It would force them to prove they are economically and socially disadvantaged rather than automatically qualifying as such, and require them to count their affiliates and subsidiaries when measuring their size.

McCaskill’s spokeswoman Maria Speiser says huge government contracts are going out the door without competition because of the Small Business Administration “8(a) Program,” which she thinks isn’t good for taxpayers.

Speiser says truly disadvantaged Native Corporations could still qualify for breaks – but they would have to prove their need.

McCaskill’s bill would prevent ANCs from operating as what the Senator calls “pass-throughs” to non-Native companies that don’t qualify as Small Businesses.  She’s especially targeting the partnerships ANCs forge with other non-Native corporations, and has called for an investigation into the practice by the Small Business Administration.  A press release from her office Wednesday said she wants a report made to Congress, with to the Justice Department if necessary.

But the Vice President of Communications and Marketing at NANA Development Corporation in Alaska Robin Cornfield says the ANCs play by the rules, deliver high quality services to the government, and ultimately help shareholders back home – which fulfills their mission.

Senator McCaskill is a Democrat, but her fellow “D” in the Senate, Alaska’s Mark Begich, intends to fight her bill.  His spokeswoman Julie Hasquet says their office is taken aback that McCaskill is going after a program far away from her state of Missouri.

Hasquet says Senator Begich does believe some reform in the 8(a) program would help rout out any misuse.  But he believes that can be done through proposals the Native corporations are already discussing.

Senator McCaskill’s bill won’t likely see any movement during the current Lame Duck session in Washington.

F-22 Missing After Training Exercise
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
Last night an F-22 fighter jet from Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson went missing during a training exercise. Two F-22s were out flying when one of them dropped off radar around 7:40 p.m., about 100 miles north of Anchorage. Air traffic control was notified.  Captain Joseph Coslett with the base public affairs office says, the pilot of the other F-22 re-fueled and went looking for the missing craft.

The jet was discovered today, but there is no word yet as to whether or not the pilot was able to safely eject from the plane.

Captain Coslett says the name of the pilot will not be released until rescuers can reach the site and determine the pilot’s condition. The aircraft is assigned to Elmendorf’s 3rd Wing.

Pollock More Than Just a Food
Alexandra Gutierrez, KUCB – Unalaska
Pollock can be used as more than just food. KUCB’s Alexandra Gutierrez talks with scientists who are finding biomedical uses for Alaska’s most abundant fish.

Alaska a Top Producer of Fulbright Scholars
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
The University of Alaska has been named a top producer of Fulbright students by the U.S. Fulbright Program.   Four scholars from UAA have received awards to study abroad from the government’s premiere international educational exchange program.

Rocket to Launch From Kodiak Friday
Jacob Resneck, KMXT – Kodiak
Friday’s launch at the Kodiak Launch Complex will be the first rocket in almost two years for the Alaska Aerospace Corporation. The state-owned corporation’s primary customer has been the military, although this spring it lost its lucrative missile defense contract. Now the corporation is reportedly asking for millions in state funding to not only expand but stay open for the next four years.

102-Year-Old Reverend Celebrates Landmark Birthday
Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau
At 102, the Reverend Doctor Walter Soboleff is still officiating at church services and special functions.

The beloved Tlingit Presbyterian minister celebrated his landmark birthday on Sunday in Juneau.  In honor of that day, KTOO’s Rosemarie Alexander sat down for a chat with him.

Unalaska Flight Diverts Due to Good Weather
Alexandra Gutierrez, KUCB – Unalaska
When you take a trip to Unalaska, it’s often advised that you give yourself a few days on each end in the event of flight cancellations.  Reachable only by air or water, and it’s often plagued by fog, rain, hail, or snow. But yesterday, a flight was canceled due to good weather.

A PenAir plane heading to Unalaska was stopped in Cold Bay, after a high-pressure system made it difficult to read the altimeter. This is only the second time in Alaska’s history that flight has been affected by pleasant weather.

The plane ultimately was redirected back to Anchorage.