Murkowski strikes a certain note

Sen. Lisa Murkowski addresses a joint session of the Legislature (Photo: Skip Gray/KTOO)
Sen. Lisa Murkowski addresses a joint session of the Legislature (Photo: Skip Gray/360 North)

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U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski returned to Juneau and delivered her annual address this morning to the Alaska Legislature. Murkowski tucked her Senate accomplishments into a speech that was decidedly homey and reassuring.

Murkowski walked into the House chamber where she used to serve and added a flower to a vase sitting on Rep. Max Gruenberg’s desk, next to a photo of the Anchorage legislator, who died Sunday.

“My heart’s with Kayla and the family. And with you,” Murkowski told legislators. “Beacause Max was our family. Max was part of the Alaska family.”

Then, as she usually does, Murkowski gave an update on her kids. The older son is in law school. The younger just graduated from college, and both intend to move back to Alaska. Murkowski says as a mom she’s proud, and here’s the pivot:

“It’s also a responsibility then, for me to make sure that we maintain an economy here, we maintain a quality of life that not only brings my boys home, but brings all of our kids back home, or keeps (them) here, so that they have that stability, that certainty,” she said.

That was the theme of her speech: Certainty, and what she’s doing to provide more of it for Alaska. She says all three members of the congressional delegation helped pass a six-year highway bill that will give Alaska certainty in federal transportation money: $507 million now, ramping up to $585 million in 2021.

Murkowski also talked about all the military construction money on its way to Alaska: new buildings at military bases, more interceptor missiles at Greely, a new radar system at Clear, among other projects.

“When you add it all up, this is about $561 million being poured into Alaska’s construction economy,” the senator said. “This is significant to us.”

Murkowski barely took credit for steering that money to Alaska, although she is one of a handful of senators who get to write the military construction spending bill.

“We’re not getting these mil-con dollars just because I’m using my sharp elbows to say we need more up here,” she said.

She gave credit to the recognition of Alaska’s strategic spot on the globe. Geography, she says, is also one of the lessons learned when she brought five U.S. senators  to Bethel this week. Murkowski says someone – she didn’t say who — asked, if their field hearing ran late, could their staffers just drive them back, from Bethel to Anchorage? Uh, no.

“You need to kind of be in the space and the place, to really appreciate it, and that was a strong takeaway for them,” she said.

Murkowski  says if the U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t rule for an Anchorage moose hunter, for state sovereignty in a pending hovercraft case, she’ll work to change the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act to more clearly limit the reach of the federal government.

It didn’t sound much like a partisan speech, and legislators on both sides of the aisle praised it.

State Sen. Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage, says she’s impressed with Murkowski’s work to protect Alaska’s fisheries. Murkowski mentioned preserving the Alaska brand, like keeping Russian pollock from being sold under the name “Alaska pollock.”

“And of course on the military,” Gardner said. “She’s absolutely bringing home the bacon and keeping that aspect of our economy and our state very healthy and strong.”

Rep. Dan Ortiz, an independent from Ketchikan who caucuses with the Democrats, says the certainty Murkowski spoke of was a comfort to legislators as they grapple with big deficits. Ortiz says he also appreciates her account of the federal money coming to Alaska.

“Which is really important in relationship to the problem we’re having, and our ability at the state level, to come up with a significant capital budget,” Ortiz said. “So I really liked a lot of what she had to say today.”

It’s an election year for Murkowski, and she says it was news to her to learn that she has a new challenger: Margaret Stock, an Anchorage immigration attorney and a retired Army reservist.