Murkowski delivers ‘tough love’ address to Alaska Legislature

a woman behind a microphone gives a thumbs up
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski addresses the Alaska Legislature on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023. (Gavel Alaska staff/KTOO)

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski listed a string of accomplishments in her address Wednesday to a joint session of the Alaska Legislature, as she does every year.

Murkowski spoke about the millions of dollars coming to the state from the federal infrastructure law, and from the Alaska-bound earmarks — “nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars” — she requested in the yearly appropriations bills.

And then she pivoted.

“It’s a beautiful day in Juneau. And as sunny a day as it is, there’s also this next part of my speech, which is perhaps not so sunny,” she said, adding that she previewed the speech for her son, who called it the “tough love” portion.

She spoke of a decade of outmigration and economic stagnation in Alaska, as well as a slower recovery from COVID-19 than almost any other state.

“Alaska needs to be the place where people want to move to and want to stay, because they have good jobs that support their families, they have a good place to live, they have good schools, where their kids can excel, they have a quality of life that cannot be matched anywhere else,” she said. “Where we take care of our fellow Alaskans when they hit rough patches.”

Murkowski, 65, has been in the U.S. Senate for 20 years. This was her first address to the Legislature as the senior member of the state’s congressional delegation, and she strayed more than she usually does into the Legislature’s remit. The theme of her address seemed aimed at lawmakers who are unwilling to solve the state’s fiscal crisis, except by shrinking government services.

Murkowski challenged lawmakers to have a vision and reach for it, particularly in the area of transportation. She invoked former Rep. Jeannette James of North Pole, who sought a rail link to Canada, and her own father, former Gov. Frank Murkowski, a champion of “big ideas” like rail extensions.

“We need to be thinking big about how we move our people, our resources, our freight, our trash,” she said. “Let’s not lower our sights here.”

She told lawmakers they can’t rely solely on federal money and need to step up with the state’s share of the cost.

“I hope I didn’t step on anybody’s toes with some of my perhaps more direct comments,” she said as she wrapped up. “I didn’t necessarily stay in my lane today.”

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Alaska Public Media. She reports from the U.S. Capitol and from Anchorage. Reach her at

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