Sen. Lisa Murkowski speaks to members of the Alaska media at the Capitol on Wednesday.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski speaks to members of the Alaska media at the Capitol on Wednesday.

In capital stop, Murkowski speaks on Juneau, national issues

Sen. Lisa Murkowski has had a busy week. On Monday, she was leading a field hearing of the U.S. Senate’s energy committee in Bethel. After a stop in Anchorage, she delivered her annual address to the Alaska Legislature on Wednesday.

Following that speech, Murkowski had a day of meetings with state and local officials. As the sun set behind the mountains of Douglas Island, she stopped at the Juneau Empire to talk about issues near and dear to Juneauites.

On Juneau Access:

This spring, the Alaska Department of Transportation will finish its environmental assessment process for the road out of Juneau. A decision on the project – whether to continue it immediately, cancel it, or simply put it on hold – will be up to Gov. Bill Walker.

“This is something the Legislature and the governor have got to reckon with,” Murkowski said.

Walker late last year indicated his opposition to Alaska “megaprojects,” expensive capital projects being considered across the state.

Murkowski said she isn’t sure Juneau’s road deserves the “megaproject” label. “It’s not on the same scale as perhaps the Knik Arm Crossing,” she said.

While the Juneau Access project will cost an estimated $574 million, 90 percent of that total will be paid by the federal government, and the state has already socked away much of the remaining $57 million. Last year, the project’s manager said less than $4 million more is needed to start work.

She said she understands there is a “diversity of opinion” on the Juneau road, “but having been a kid from Southeast and having lived here in Juneau for many years, I’ve always figured there would be a time when there would be a road out of town.”

In this case, “I think it is a question of timing,” she said. “Right now, it’s kind of a tough time for everybody who’s looking for money.”

On local power projects:

Murkowski is chairwoman of the U.S. Senate’s energy committee, and the comprehensive energy bill drafted by that committee includes “streamlined permitting” for small and medium-sized hydroelectric power projects, Murkowski said.

With the country looking for renewable, clean energy, she said it “makes no sense” to put obstacles in the way of hydroelectricity.

On the Coast Guard and Arctic icebreakers:

“I am not taking my foot off the pedal here,” she said.

President Obama’s draft budget for the next fiscal year includes $150 million for a new polar icebreaker, but that won’t be enough to build a billion-dollar new ship, Murkowski said.

“I’ve got to make sure the funding commitment is there and it’s robust going forward,” she said.

She also wants to make sure that funding for the icebreaker doesn’t come at the expense of the Coast Guard’s ongoing plans to modernize its fleet.

If the Coast Guard spends $1 billion per year on new ships, having to allocate $150 million of that sum to an icebreaker would hurt the service.

“This is a national security asset,” Murkowski said of a new icebreaker. “Let’s treat it that way.”

On her election this fall:

The last time Murkowski faced election, she was defeated in the Republican primary by Joe Miller of Fairbanks. She still came out on top in the general election, winning the first successful write-in campaign for the U.S. Senate since 1954. In downtown Juneau during that election, she topped Miller by nearly a 2-to-1 margin (but was behind Scott McAdams, the Democratic candidate). In the Mendenhall Valley, she topped both Miller and McAdams.

This year, “it does feel different,” she said.

The world is more unstable and volatile this time around. “The times are much more serious,” she said.

While the national presidential campaign sometimes gets “awkward and uncomfortable,” rowdy and rambunctious, “it’s not an unhealthy process,” she said.

She declined to endorse a candidate in the March 1 Republican presidential preference poll.

“This is not going to be a rah-rah campaign,” she said of her own efforts.

She said she intends to discuss the seriousness of governing – “This is a serious business,” she said – and promote the seniority she has earned since being appointed to office by her father in 2002.

“I’m not a bomb-thrower. I’m not one who says, by gosh, I’m never going to compromise with anybody. … I think that’s how I’m going to be approaching my campaign,” she said.

On civility in politics:

While the national headlines have been consumed by the insurgent candidacies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, Murkowski said anyone who runs for office has “a responsibility to be respectful of the fact that others may have different ideas.”

“I can’t be calling you dumb. I can’t be calling you stupid. I can’t resort to making it personal,” she said.

“Some of those who are in the news and putting their ideas out there are perhaps not meeting the ‘mother’ standard,” she said, alluding to her sons Nicolas and Matthew.

On splitting the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals:

“I think that is a very strong idea,” she said, but later added, “It’s not going to happen this year.”

Murkowski referred to a visit the former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia made to Anchorage for a lecture. “He made the case for splitting the 9th,” Murkowski said. “My hope is that some of what he laid down there is carried forward in some sort of legacy for him. … You cannot burden a court with the volume, the sheer volume the 9th Circuit faces and hope to get good, consistent results.”

In a press conference following her address to the Legislature, Murkowski said she supports giving confirmation hearings to whomever President Obama appoints to replace Scalia on the court, but she won’t know if she supports giving that person an up-or-down vote until the hearings take place.

On using Alaska Permanent Fund earnings to partially resolve the state deficit:

“This is about our future; this is all about our future,” Murkowski said. “It’s about our kids … it’s about the state of Alaska going forward.”

With reference to the Permanent Fund Dividend, she said, “Gov. Hammond was brilliant when he divined the dividend idea, but I don’t want that brilliant approach that he integrated into our system – I don’t want us to become so focused on that one aspect that we lose sight of … the Permanent Fund itself and what that allows us to do as a state.”

She said she has not made up her mind about which Permanent Fund plan is right to address the deficit, but “Alaskans need to be – they need to be paying attention to this.”

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