Ketchikan Daily News: Murkowski in Ketchikan
Sen. Lisa Murkowski arrived in Ketchikan on Friday to start a multi-day trip through her home state after a busy week in Washington, D.C., that saw the passage of critical federal debt legislation — and the resignation of key Murkowski aide Arne Fuglvog following the announcement of a fisheries-infraction related plea agreement that’s expected to result in jail time and significant fines for the longtime Petersburg fisherman.
Murkowski addressed both issues and others with local media early Friday evening.
The Alaska Republican said no legislator is pleased with the federal debt deal passed by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama this week.
“I don’t know of a single member on either the House or the Senate side that I have talked to that ... has said this is a good deal,” Murkowski said. “What people have said is, ‘This is what we can get.’”
The group of 12 legislators that soon will be named to a special committee tasked with developing a plan for reducing the federal deficit debt will have an “enormous challenge,” Murkowski said.
She added that the makeup of the committee will be key to its success, or lack thereof.
“I think we will see, as soon as the (12) individuals are appointed by the House and the Senate Republicans and Democrats ..., we'll know whether or not that is a serious endeavor, or everybody is just going to line up as we tried before,” Murkowski said.
The composition of the committee also will send a signal to U.S. international markets, according to Murkowski, who said she prefers having committee members who are open to every option for reducing the deficit.
“We really do have to have everything on the table,” she said. “And we can’t be starting these discussions with this group of 12 saying, ‘Everything but entitlements,’ or, ‘Everything but tax reform.’ It will be tough.”
Murkowski said she favors the debt-reduction framework proposed in July by the bipartisan “Gang of Six” group senators.
That multi-component proposal would have, in part, reduced the federal debt by $4 trillion while reforming the tax code and budget processes, and looking at changing some forms of federal discretionary and entitlement spending.
“I felt that (the Gang of Six) took the hard steps that we’re going to have to take,” Murkowski said. “This was focused on cutting spending, but everybody you talk to will say, in honesty, we can’t cut our way out of this, we can’t tax our way out of this either, it's going to have to be the fuller picture.”
Murkowski said the debt-reduction deal that did pass doesn’t deal with the fuller picture. She also noted that the credit rating agency Standard & Poors downgraded the U.S. federal credit rating Friday for the first time ever.
“I think that the signals that the markets needed — and the credit ratings agencies needed — we didn’t send,” Murkowski said. “But having said that, was this the best deal that we could get, given where we were? Yes.”
Murkowski also noted other recent dismal economic news, including persistent high levels of unemployment.
“All of the economic indicators out there are just really so difficult right now that maybe there is enough pressure on everybody to say, ‘Look, we have got to figure out how do we make this happen,’” she said.
There should also be a focus on creating jobs, a process that Murkowski said is being hampered in Alaska by the amount of regulations.
She said an executive order by Obama seeking to streamline regulations had resulted in the repeal of just one regulation this year. During the same time, the federal government has added 342 new regulations that will result an estimated $60.4 billion in costs.
Murkowski pointed to the potential for new development in Alaska of timber, oil and gas, and mineral resources.
“What’s stopping it from happening?” she asked. “It’s the regulations that are coming at you fast and furious.”
A lot of what the federal government can do to stimulate job creation is “getoutoftheway,” Murkowski said.
Murkowski’s conversation with local media Friday opened on the subject of Arne Fuglvog, the one-time member of the federal fishery policy-setting North Pacific Fisheries Management Council who has served as a fisheries aide for Murkowski since 2006.
Fuglvog’s resignation from Murkowski’s staff was made public Monday when a plea agreement was entered in federal court.
In the plea agreement — which Fuglvog had signed on April 8 — Fuglvog admitted to a single misdemeanor charge of falsifying records for an illegal catch of about 33,000 pounds of sablefish valued at about $100,000 in 2005.
The plea agreement calls for a prison sentence of 10 months, a fine of $50,000, and a community service payment of $100,000 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to help enhance fishery habitat along the Gulf of Alaska coast.
Apparently, the 2005 incident for which Fuglvog admitted guilt wasn't the only time that he falsified records.
“On several occasions between 2001 and 2006, Fuglvog fished in one regulatory area and then falsely reported that the fish were caught in a different regulatory area,” according to the plea agreement.
Murkowski told the Anchorage Daily News earlier this week that she first heard of allegations against Fuglvog in December 2010 or January 2011.
She said Friday that Fuglvog had come to her at the end of June and told her that he was going to enter a plea agreement and admit the fishing violations.
“What he did not tell me was that he had already signed the plea agreement in April,” Murkowski said, adding later that “I found about his signed plea agreement on Monday when the pleadings were filed in court.”
Murkowski said asked him for his resignation in June.
“I told him, ’You cannot continue to work for me,’” Murkowski said. “We both recognized that. I asked for his resignation. But again, recognizing that this was all going to be coming to an, not necessarily an end, but a disposition, on the first of August, I allowed him to stay until the end of July.”
Fuglvog stayed on Murkowski's staff through July 31.
Murkowski said that she had been prepared to let the process run its course.
“Recognizing that we know that there’s been things that have gone on with the Department of Justice with certain individuals — and with some people, there were things that went on for years,” she said. “And with some individuals nothing ever came of that.
“So I was prepared to let the process play out until such time as there was actually anything filed with the court. And that all happened on the first of August,” Murkowski said.
However, “in retrospect,” she said, “perhaps I should have taken another course at the time I learned (of Fuglvog’s intent to enter a plea agreement) ..., because he had signed an agreement three months earlier.”
From a longtime Petersburg fishing family, Fuglvog was well known in Southeast Alaska and statewide fishing circles before starting work for Murkowski in 2006.
In addition to serving three years on the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council, Fuglvog had served for nine years on the NPFMC Advisory Council, and had participated in salmon, crab, herring and longline fisheries in the Southeast Alaska.
His focus as an aide to Murkowski included work on transportation and Arctic issues as well as fisheries. During Murkowski’s recent write-in campaign to retain her Senate seat, Fuglvog was active in campaign work in Ketchikan.
“It's just a tragedy on many levels,” Murkowski said of what has occurred with Fuglvog. “But what Arne did was wrong, and he has acknowledged that. He has admitted that through this plea agreement, and will suffer the consequences, and the consequences are quite substantial.”
Fuglvog is expected to appear Thursday in federal court in Anchorage, according to The Associated Press.
Among other issues addressed by Murkowski on Friday was the proposed Sealaska lands legislation, the House version of which was approved in July by the House Resources Committee.
Murkowski said work continues on the legislation, which she hopes will be brought before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee early this fall.
“I may be overly optimistic about that, but this is priority and I think that with all of the work that we have put into it, it’s time to move it before the committee,” Murkowski said.
If it passes the Senate Energy Committee, the next challenge will be how to move it to the Senate floor for consideration because lands bills usually go through as a package of bills.
“That has yet to be determined what (the bill package) might be composed of, and exactly when the timing would be,” Murkowski said.
“But our reality is, Sealaska is looking at a situation where they're not sure that they're going to be able to stay in the timber business next year if this legislation doesn't go through, so timing is pretty critical.”
Murkowski also discussed a U.S. Postal Service proposal for consolidating post offices. An early study list is looking at 36 post offices in Alaska as having potential for closure, including the post office in Point Baker.
Murkowski said the early list was generated by computer based on a variety of criteria. However, the Postal Service is planning a follow-up assessment.
“What we are told is if the post office is the only post office in that community, then they will not close it,” Murkowski said. “That should take care of everyone that's on the Alaska list. ”
She noted that the 80 percent of Alaska communities that aren’t road accessible rely on postal service for staples such as food, medicine and building materials.
Murkowski will be in the Ketchikan and Prince of Wales Island area this weekend before heading north, where she and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Sen. Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, will be touring portions of the North Slope and National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, Barrow, Fairbanks and Denali National Park.
Reed is the chairman of the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee.
Source: By Scott Bowlen. Originally Published on August 8, 2011