U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan returned to Juneau and today gave his first speech as a senator to a joint session of the Alaska Legislature. The first-term Republican established an “us versus them” theme – a united Alaska up against the Obama administration.
Sullivan, who ousted a Democrat in a tough race, opened with unity. He says Alaskans are one big family who survive life’s ups and downs together.
“Births. Deaths. Marriages. Even elections,” he said.
Sullivan made a point of seeking out a Barrow Democrat who has recovered after he fell ill on the House floor last month.
“It’s great to see Rep. Ben Nageak, looking as healthy as ever. Where are you Benny?”
Someone told him Rep. Nageak was absent that day.
“Oh no! That was my first applause line!” Sullivan quipped.
He talked about his work on a veteran’s suicide bill, and going to the White House for the signing ceremony. He says Alaskans need to align interests with people of every political stripe.
“Certainly one that that I’ve already started is working with both sides of the aisle on critical issues to our country, critical issues to our state. It’s something that I do on a regular basis,” he said. “In fact, Sen. Murkowski, Rep. Young and I made a little news the other night. We had a potlatch dinner at the senator’s house with the entire Hawaiian delegation – all Democrats.”
But Sullivan was elected on a strong anti-Obama message, and he has stayed consistent. Sometimes, Sullivan says, interests can’t be aligned.
“On some of the most critical issues facing our state and country, the administration of Barack Obama does not have our interests at heart,” he said. “This is becoming increasingly clear.”
Sullivan says Alaskans want access to develop federal lands, big economic projects, and less regulation, while the administration, he says, wants the opposite.
“We want a strong secure Arctic teeming with opportunity for our citizens, and protected by a strong military presence in Alaska,” he said. “They’re looking at removing thousands of our Arctic-tough soldiers.”
(The Army plans to cut brigade combat teams, possibly from Alaska. The Army’s chief of staff says it’s due to the 2011 Budget Control Act, passed by Congress.)
Rep. Adam Wool, a Fairbanks Democrat, says this was the first time he’d heard Sullivan speak, other than in campaign ads.
“He said ‘My door is always open, I work with Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Socialists.’ But much of the speech … seemed kind of partisan,” Wool said.
Rep. David Guttenberg, another Fairbanks Democrat, says he hopes Sullivan can deploy a different skill set than the one that got him elected.
“To be a statesman, which is what we need to do in the U.S. Senate, is you need to build the bridges. You need to make people see that you’re relevant,” he said.
Guttenberg says he was delighted to hear about the dinner with the Hawaii delegation, which he says continues an important alliance forged by the late Sen. Ted Stevens. But Guttenberg says, he also heard a lot of blame, which he says isn’t constructive.
“Our guys need to be able to talk to the president no matter who he is. You need to be able to have that dialogue,” he said. “Alaska has interests that are so important, you need to not shut the door anywhere you turn. And blaming the president every time you turn around is just the nature of the very partisanship that’s gone on back there.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski made her annual speech to the legislature last month. No date has been announced yet for Congressman Don Young.