U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican condemned by her party, returned to the Alaska Legislature Tuesday for an annual address marked by her moderate brand of politics.
She spoke at length about the benefits for Alaska in the federal infrastructure bill that President Joe Biden signed into law in November.
“This infrastructure law is one of the most consequential measures that I have ever worked on. And I thank Sen. [Dan] Sullivan, Congressman [Don]Young for their support for it. But I really want to commend Congressman Young,” she said. “He put aside the partisan pressure to oppose the bill in the House and really worked to round up the votes there on the House side.”
Murkowski, of course, faced that partisan pressure, too. While infrastructure is popular across the political spectrum, many Republicans didn’t want to give Biden the win.
Murkoski, though, cited the late U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, whose catchphrase was, “To hell with politics. Let’s do what’s right for Alaska.” The infrastructure law is already delivering results, Murkowski said, with $608 million in projects announced so far.
“We will grow our economy. We will improve Alaskans quality of life and will leave a healthier, more resilient, better developed, and yet still beautiful state for our children,” she said.
Her remarks drew applause from much of the Legislature. But not from everyone. Rep. Christopher Kurka, a right-wing candidate for governor, quietly reached for his water glass at one point while his colleagues were clapping for the senator. Next to him, Rep. David Eastman swiveled silently in his chair. Both are Republicans from the Mat-Su, one of the most conservative areas of the state.
Murkowski is reviled by conservative Republicans who view her as too liberal and too adversarial to former President Donald Trump. The Alaska Republican Party has not forgotten that she voted to convict Trump at his second impeachment trial. The party censured her last year. Now Murkowski is running for reelection and the party has endorsed a Republican challenger, Kelly Tshibaka, who went to Mar-a-Lago this month for a fundraiser that Trump hosted.
In a Q-and-A after Murkowski’s address, Rep. Kevin McCabe, another Mat-Su Republican, said his conservative constituents wonder if she regrets voting to confirm Biden’s Interior secretary, Deb Haaland.
“My folks want to know, would you change your stance now, if you could?” McCabe asked.
“I’d like to change her mind on the decisions that she has made that have negatively impacted the state of Alaska,” Murkowski replied.
If Biden chose a different Interior secretary, the administration’s opposition to many Alaska resource development projects would be the same, she said. She described daily battles with the Biden administration about resource policy and permits, but she said she thinks the Willow oil project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska will be approved this year.
“Anytime I have a conversation with anybody in the White House, the subject of Willow comes up,” Murkowski said. “I actually found out that the president has a new cat that he named Willow. This is a true story. So think about that. That name had to be in his head for some reason.”
At a press conference after the address, Murkowski said she is concerned that the U.S. Supreme Court will overturn the Roe vs. Wade decision, or otherwise undermine abortion rights.
She voted to confirm two of Trump’s high court nominees who are now part of the conservative bloc on the bench.