Mat - Su Valley Frontiersman: Murkowski talks energy during visit

WASILLA — As the ranking Republican member of the nation’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee, it’s no wonder U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s day in the Valley Friday centered on just that.

It began with conversations about energy with teenagers at Palmer High School and a tour of Valley Community for Recycling Solutions, and ended with another group of teens from Teeland Middle School who won a national competition for designing an energy efficient, sustainable school of the future.

In the middle were stops at the Midnight Sun Republican Women’s Club luncheon at the Menard sports center and a 30-minute KBYR radio discussion — both centering on the importance of continuing to produce Alaska’s natural resources.

Of course, others issues popped up — such as why Murkowski supports funds for Planned Parenthood and how Valley Republicans can unite to get another member of the GOP in the Senate in 2014 — but most of her energy was focused on, well, energy.

It was just a small glimpse into the hectic schedule she’s kept for the past two weeks in her home state before heading back to Washington, D.C., to tackle budget issues before Congress recesses just before July 4.

“When I was giving my talk at the school this morning, I was telling the students that we must get away from our habit of using, using, using. We are a very wasteful people as consumers and it’s really quite shameful in many, many ways,” she said as she toured the new VCRS facility near the Mat-Su landfill for the first time. “We need to be more efficient. We’ve got to teach people how to conserve and how to be more responsible with recycling and the level of consumerism that seems to engulf us. We’re all sitting on the same rock here.”

As VCRS Executive Director Mollie Boyer explained to Murkowski how the new facility is as energy efficient as possible, works with local businesses and helps reduce landfill waste, she let her know the facility still needs about $800,000 for a larger baler and a glass crusher.

Boyer pointed out that the local landfill has been running in the red for the last three years and that, with VCRS’s help, they can turn that around by educating residents on the costs of throwing out their garbage.

As the senator headed into the Menard center in Wasilla to address a roomful of Republican women who’ve been divided about her recent write-in campaign, Murkowski said she was quite impressed with VCRS and completely agrees on the need to educate residents on the need to buy into it.

“I’m convinced that it will be through our kids that we’ll become better stewards,” she said before being greeted by Midnight Sun RWC President Holly Kelty and Mat-Su Borough School Board Member Lynn Gattis.

After Murkowski’s special assistant Gerri Sumpter brushed off a white smudge on the back of the petite senator’s black pants, she was greeted relatively warmly by about 55 members of the local Alaska Federation of Republican Women.

She told the group that although she knows that some of them did not agree with her decision to move forward with a write-in campaign to keep her Senate seat, she hopes they can now unite in their efforts to strengthen the GOP in Washington.

“There were people who had been friends for a long time who weren’t able to talk about the campaign because it became as emotional as it did,” she said. “I took a risk, those of you who stayed with me took a risk. I thank you for that. But I also know that that risk caused more than just mild discomfort. It caused some real anxiety. But we have a challenge in front of us as a federation. I challenge you all to figure out how to build on the strengths we have as Republican women in this state.”

The mother of two who spent a decade of her life in higher education before earning her law degree said the GOP has to figure out how to get its message out about the importance of supporting oil production at home as the Democrats use recently released record profits of Exxon, ConocoPhillips and BP to appeal to the anger of constituents.

“What the Democrats have managed to do is they’ve found the bogeyman and it’s the oil industry,” she said. “You mean they’re getting federal subsidies? Well, we can’t have that, they say. What Democrats are doing is appealing to the emotional front-page headlines. Our problem is, we want to talk to your head. The Democrats go right for the heart and they’re very, very good at it. And we’re sitting here working and over-thinking the problem. We’re going to lose in the sound bite world. How do we win that message war?”

When one woman in the back of the room asked her why she didn’t support cutting funding for Planned Parenthood, an organization that made more than $900 million in profits last year that the woman considers to be corrupt, Murkowski was clear on her own message there.

“I don’t believe that Planned Parenthood should be entirely defunded,” she said. “The House measure would have been a complete and total elimination of those dollars. I happen to believe that Planned Parenthood does do good things for women in this country, particularly low-income women, and I was willing to put myself behind that position in that vote. That’s my perspective and if people feel differently, they vote the other way. I think we saw that final outcome.”

As she continued her message about supporting Gov. Sean Parnell in his efforts to cut taxes on oil companies at the 700 AM KBYR radio studio in Wasilla, Murkowski’s busy day in the Valley didn’t end until she met with a group of Teeland Middle School students in her Valley office across the hall.

She said she was quite impressed with the dozen students who recently received an Award of Excellence from the Council of Educational Facility Planners International in Washington, D.C., for their design of a energy efficient school of the future they called Tri-Peaks.

The group spent about 300 hours after school and on weekends since last September on the project and was the second school in Alaska to win the prestigious award after beating out 400 other competitors in the nation. The Teeland group is mostly comprised of girls.

Incorporating wind, geothermal, solar and other innovative energy sources, the Teeland design was a standout with judges, school staff told the senator.

“You make us extremely proud as Alaskans,” Murkowski told them. “You are ambassadors of our state. When they see the intellectual capacity and competitiveness that you have, they say, ‘Wow,’ and our whole state rises up.”



Source: By K.T. McKee. Originally Published on May 1, 2011