U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, is applauded after giving his annual speech to a Joint Session of the Alaska Legislature on Friday, Feb. 24, 2017. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, is applauded after giving his annual speech to a Joint Session of the Alaska Legislature on Friday, Feb. 24, 2017. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

In speech, Sullivan focuses on jobs but neglects Trump, immigration, health care

In 31 minutes, Sen. Dan Sullivan’s annual address to the Alaska Legislature contained no mentions of the Affordable Care Act, no references to immigration and only three references to the Trump administration.

“What I was trying to do was give an update on things that were focused on the economy,” Sullivan later told reporters. “In that regard, I think there’s a lot of good news.”

Alaska’s junior U.S. Senator said the No. 1 question he’s received from Alaskans across the state is what he’s doing to address Alaska’s deepening recession, which was triggered by slumping global oil and gas prices, then exacerbated by deep state budget cuts.

In a speech Wednesday, Alaska’s senior U.S. Senator, Republican Lisa Murkowski, told lawmakers and the public that there is “an undercurrent of anxiety running through much of Alaska right now.”

Murkowski, who sits on the U.S. Senate Committee for Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, said some of that anxiousness was due to Congressional plans to abandon the Affordable Care Act, which has provided health insurance to a growing number of Alaskans.

She clarified some of her positions on contentious aspects of the ACA, which will be a prime subject in the HELP committee.

Sullivan, who doesn’t serve on that committee, didn’t address the issue until prompted by reporters.

He said he supports keeping portions of the law, including the provision protecting people who have pre-existing conditions, and one that allows young adults to stay on their parents’ health insurance policies until age 26.

Asked whether he agrees with Murkowski’s assessment of Alaskans’ anxiousness, he said he does.

“I don’t disagree with that at all. There’s a lot of anxiety. There’s anxiety about jobs,” Sullivan said. “What I try to do is focus on that issue.”

Outside the Capitol, the anxiety of sign-waving protesters was focused on everything other than jobs. Some held signs declaiming President Trump’s attacks on the media. Others called for Sullivan to engage with the public more often. Planned Parenthood supporters stood alongside those advocating action on a half-dozen other issues.

“No wall, town hall,” they chanted at one point, mixing a pair of issues.

In response to questions about his availability to the public, Sullivan said, “If you look at my schedule, I hold what I would consider issue-specific public meetings frequently.”

He referred to his recent appearance at an Alaska Board of Game meeting as one example.

“If you’re invited to a town hall simply for the purpose of being shouted down and shouted at, I don’t think it’s very constructive,” he said.

Sullivan did address an issue of interest to Southeast Alaskans on Friday; he said he’s continuing to work with Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott to find a way to ensure that Canadian mines along the border don’t pollute cross-boundary rivers.

He also spoke about the opioid addiction epidemic and the need for improved veterans services.

The core of his message, however, was “the economy, the economy, the economy,” he said.

With Republican majorities in both houses of Congress and a Republican president in office, Sullivan believes Alaska has the best chance in years to develop its natural resources, creating jobs that will counter the state recession.

“I do think there are bright days ahead,” he said.



Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com or 419-7732.



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