Sitka Sentinel: Murkowski Tells Sitka Of Bipartisan Success

Securing the northern border of America with a “moving wall,” fighting tariffs that could affect the seafood industry, and making a decision on the Supreme Court nominee – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski told a Sitka audience Wednesday that she’s been busy.

    “I’ve got too many things to talk about,” Murkowski said in her address to the Chamber of Commerce.
    Her talk drew a standing-room-only turnout of more than 100 members of the Chamber and the general public alike, with about half of the time devoted to questions and answers.

    Murkowski also held a press briefing, and talked to a group of fishermen who are asking for a review of the Pacific Salmon Treaty process. About two dozen held a demonstration outside the Westmark Sitka before the noon Chamber talk, urging her support in revising the treaty process.

    The audience was an appreciative one, with a number of those present expressing thanks for her work on various issues.

    In her half-hour talk, Murkowski hit on some of the work she’s been doing on the appropriations committee, as well as national events that Alaskans may be concerned about.

    “This is the only time that I really can get out to these communities and spend a full day in Sitka, and spend a full day whether it’s Ketchikan, or Gustavus, or Juneau, or pick your town,” she said. “I’ve been dubbed the chairman of the cranky coalition because, I’m staying back in Washington, D.C., where it is ungodly and miserably hot – and the political temperatures are equally bad – but we’re going to plow through these appropriations bills that are important.”

    She said the “big topic” at this time is the review of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. She said it will take some time before she weighs in.

    “The reality is nothing is going to happen in August because the documentation from this nominee is so voluminous the committee is not going to be able to schedule hearings until they get the documents they’ve requested,” she said. 

    The Republicans on the committee have requested some 900,000 pages of material from Kavanaugh’s 12 years on the bench and his years in the George W. Bush administration.

    “I’m going to be visiting Kavanaugh some time in mid-August,” Murkowski said. “I’ve actually said I want to do a little studying of this person before I sit down with him. I want to be able to ask informed questions to him. I want to do my due-diligence. I’ll tell you, I’ve gotten heat from both sides on this. Some people are like, ‘you need to say no yesterday.’ ... Others are saying, ‘you need to support Trump’s person yesterday.’ So as they say, the proverbial, damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I will be guilty of taking my time to do my homework on this. I solicit your opinions on this, I respect them and I will take them with me as I’m collecting these from around the state.”

    But, she said: “There are many more weeks to go before you’ll hear me weigh in one way or another on Judge Kavanaugh.”

    Addressing another item on the front pages, Murkowski said she is concerned about the children who were separated at the border from their families.

    “We need to get them back with their parents yesterday,” she said. “This is something you’re not seeing legislation on, but making sure we’re resourcing appropriately, making sure we’re not letting back on this. I’m one that’s said we need to be a country of laws, we need to be a country that has our borders and reinforce them, but we are also a country of compassion and we don’t rip families apart. We just don’t do that.”

    Murkowski said in her work on the appropriations committee is an example of bipartisan cooperation, and has included securing funding for departments important to Alaska.

    “We’re doing it without riders, but we are getting back to process that allows for actual governing by both Republicans and Democrats in a bipartisan way, that you really haven’t seen in the news because it’s actually an example of cooperation,” she said. “We need to be leading in cooperation because believe me there’s enough political back and forth and getting down and dirty that makes the news.”

    One of the bills includes increases for “maintaining assets” in the Forest Service such as cabins, trails, campgrounds, inventory of the forests, state revolving loans and mapping of earthquake risks on the Fairweather fault.

    “It’s understanding the science of this,” she said of the mapping project.

    Other appropriations she’s worked on included funding for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Indian Health Service and infrastructure for healthcare. She said funding is included to help tribes provide help in the areas of substance abuse (specifically opioid addiction), suicide prevention and domestic violence. She said resources are also being directed toward cooperative management projects between tribes and federal managers.

    Another bill moved forward is for transportation and urban development, which includes essential ferry service, housing block grants, help for homeless Native veterans and homeless individuals.

    She said earlier in the day she had the chance to talk about the issue of housing affordability, and understands it’s an issue that affects communities as well as individuals.

    “When your housing costs are so high, and cost of living is high, how do you attract those teachers to the community, how do you ensure that Coast Guard families have affordable housing?” she said. “How does a young person buy that first house when they’re looking at $400,000 as a starter home? These are really key issues.”

    Murkowski said Sitka, Seward and Kodiak will see a benefit with the placement of fast-response U.S. Coast Guard cutters in the three communities, with 20 to 30 families added to the population with each vessel, along with new infrastructure.

    “It’s also an economic benefit that we see most clearly and most directly,” she said.

    Murkowski pointed to the $750 million for a U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker she has secured in the appropriations bill passed by the Senate. The House stripped the funding from its budget, but she said that is an obstacle that can be overcome.

     “So when people say Alaska lost the icebreaker, what you need to remind them is the Senate appropriations bill has full funding for an icebreaker,” she said. “We’re going to get this icebreaker and we’re not going to do it one porthole at a time, which is what was happening before.”

    The U.S. is “so far behind the game as far as participating in the arctic, the Chinese are cleaning our clock when it comes to infrastructure opportunities in the arctic and they’re not an arctic nation,” she said. “We have not backed down on this. Those saying ‘it’s expensive, we need to secure the southern border first,’ I’m going to say we’re securing the northern border with this ‘moving wall’ up here, this icebreaker that’s going to be able to assist us when we need that assistance.”

    Murkowski also said she is disturbed by the “tariffs and retaliation” that could affect the fishing industry as well as add to the cost to build the natural gas pipeline. The tariffs other nations are placing on imports from America are retaliation against the protective tariffs Trump has placed on their exports to this country.
    “We’ve already seen some of the impact and the path we’re on, the trajectory that we’re on, from Alaska’s perspective as seafood producer, is one that we’ll keep pushing back very, very, very strongly on,” she said.

    The senator said she has seen estimates in one publication that the tariffs could cost all U.S. fishermen some $811 million, which she said she still needs to verify, as well as an estimated increase in steel and aluminum costs of $250 million to $500 million to the gas pipeline.

    She fielded questions and comments about the Pacific Salmon Treaty, the national debt, climate change and net neutrality, and other subjects.

    Michelle Weaver, who owns the marijuana retail shop Weed Dudes, asked for Murkowski’s help in removing the federal regulations that prevent marijuana businesses’ access to banks.

    “It’s very, very difficult for us because we don’t have the ability to bank,” Weaver said. “You as a federal liaison, it would be easy for you to help us in this fight.”

    Murkowski said this is a concern for all of Alaska, as well as a number of other states with legalized marijuana, and one day there may be momentum to resolve the issue, but not at this time.

    “I would like to suggest that to you that this is easy, that this is one of those state’s rights issues where the state has made that determination,” she said. “There is a significant number of states that have moved toward legalization, and so I think it will be easier to address the banking side, but right now I’ll tell you, the resistance is quite high from those areas of the country where they have not legalized, who view this as: ‘We can’t let that happen because it would then force us to legalize, and we don’t want to.’ That’s not the case at all.”

    Murkowski said she was against the initiative to legalize marijuana, but now that it has passed she has obligations related to it.

    “Now my job is to make sure we have strong regulations, and that people engaged in lawful business will be safe in their business,” she said. “We have that obligation, that responsibility, to make sure that you can safely bank.”

By:  Shannon Haugland
Source: Daily Sitka Sentinel