Senator Murkowski E-Newsletter for July and August, 2016
I was so happy to be able to spend a good portion of July and all of August at home in Alaska as the Senate adjourned for a longer than normal state work period. It was a productive, informative, busy, and rejuvenating time. I treasure every moment that I spend in our state, with my family, and all of you. From traveling along the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers and points in-between, to taking selfies with former interns in airports and local ferries, to meeting people at farmers markets in communities across the state, I truly love my job and the opportunity to represent each and every Alaskan’s unique needs at the national level.
The beauty of our state and the warm, welcoming nature of Alaskans make it hard for me to leave home and head back to Washington, D.C. Yet, these past weeks have left me more committed than ever to fight on behalf of our great state and our wonderful people. I have always been and remain ready to do what it takes to ensure that we have a better future and more opportunities to learn, live, and grow.
Journey along the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta
In July I traveled to the YK Delta for several days. I flew to St. Mary’s and then traveled by river boat down the Yukon River to Emmonak with visits to Mt. Village and a fish camp. We also traveled on the Kuskokwim River and visited Nunapitchuk, Alakanuk, Nunam Iqua, and Scammon Bay. I visited with Mayor Bill Alstrom and Superintendent Dave Herbert and listened to the unique challenges faced by educators in some of the most rural parts of our state.
I had the opportunity to visit the fish camp of the Thompson family from St. Mary’s on the Lower Yukon River --- to witness firsthand and learn about the traditions that have been passed on through generations.
I visited with the community members of Atmautluak, Kasigluk, and Nunapitchuk and even tested a harpoon made by River Lamont through the Coastal Villages Region Fund Youth-To-Work program in Scammon Bay.
Updating Alaskans on the work I do back in D.C. is an important part of the job – whether giving a status report on the energy bill conference that I am leading, or detailing how the delegation is working together to ensure the federal side of Alaska’s economy remains strong.
I was honored to attend the Tanana Chiefs Conference Tribal Courts Conference in Fairbanks to speak about the progress we’ve made for tribal courts and the efforts going forward to involve Alaska tribes as meaningful partners in our state’s public safety system.
Celebrating Alaska’s Military
I was proud to join the community of Fairbanks – along with Governor Walker, Senator Sullivan, and Congressman Young – to show our commitment and appreciation for all who serve and to celebrate the Air Force’s decision to bring the F-35s to Eielson. Alaska plays a key strategic role in our national security, and the F-35s are an important part of maintaining our military effectiveness. Thank you to all the men and women who have sacrificed so much in service to our country.
I attended the Arctic Thunder Air Show at JBER, which celebrates the strength of our military. The performances by the airmen and aviators were truly incredible!
I met with Admiral Zukunft, Commandant of the United States Coast Guard, to discuss Coast Guard assets coming to Alaska, the need for icebreakers as activity in the Arctic continues to increase, and efforts to keep our fishermen safe on our waters.
It was a privilege to attend the Coast Guard Gala, to recognize and honor our men and women in the U.S. Coast Guard serving in Alaska.
Spending Time on the Kenai Peninsula
I always love spending time on Alaska’s Playground, the Kenai Peninsula. In Kenai, I walked the beach at the mouth of the Kenai River where dipnetters were filling their freezers for the winter with fresh, wild Alaskan salmon. Fishing was a little slow the day I was there, but the beautiful weather and wonderful people made up for it. In Soldotna, I also made time to connect with Alaska’s young fishermen at the Kenai River Sportfishing Junior Classic. This event gives kids from military families and Boy and Girl Scouts from Southcentral a chance to enjoy a day of fishing and learning about conservation of one of the world’s greatest rivers.
Kenai’s Industry Appreciation Day is always a priority on my summer schedule. This event celebrates the local oil and gas, commercial and recreational fishing, and tourism industries that fuel the Peninsula economy. This year marked the 25th anniversary of this event, and it was a great day to reflect on the hard work that Alaskans do on a daily basis to help build these industries, our communities, and our state.
It was great to take part in the 20th Kenai Peninsula Food Bank Soup Supper, which brings together people and businesses from all over the Peninsula. It made me proud to see so many Alaskans donating their time and resources to help ensure that our neighbors don’t go hungry.
Putting Alaskans’ Health First
In Palmer, I attended and spoke at a Wellness Summit, put on by Senator Sullivan, focusing on opioid addiction. The summit encouraged open conversations between Alaskan communities and key federal officials. We heard from many brave and strong Alaskans who were willing to share their own personal stories. Know that I am working in the Senate to help combat the devastating impact that opioid addiction is having on our families, our friends, and our communities both through legislation such as the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act as well as my work on the Appropriations Committee; to remove the barriers to care that deprive many Alaskans of much-needed assistance, and investing in solutions that will help us end the scourge of opioid addiction.
I hosted a healthcare roundtable with my good friend and colleague, Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming. Senator Barrasso came to Alaska to learn more about the limited services, rising costs, lack of behavioral health programs, and other challenges that Alaskans are facing. Thanks to input from experts across our state, we had a valuable discussion about both our needs and our opportunities to provide solutions in our communities.
In Alaska, everything costs more than in the Lower 48, especially healthcare, and the remote nature of many of our communities exacerbates this problem. After hearing from concerned Alaskans and reading reports that Alaskans are being charged upwards of $833 for a single Mylan EpiPen, I called on the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold a formal hearing on the justifications for the outrageous price increases for this medication. In our rural communities, where there is often no doctor or emergency medical service available, people must have affordable, reliable access to a life-saving product. When they cannot afford it, or have put off buying a new EpiPen after their old one has expired due to its unaffordability, death is a very real possibility. That is unacceptable to me, and I am working to fix it.
(Click here for link to my letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee)
Keeping Alaskans Safe
I also observed Arctic Chinook, a joint exercise in Kotzebue and Nome where the Coast Guard, Department of Defense, and the State teamed up to carry out a simulated mass rescue operation. Given the increased traffic in the Arctic Ocean we need to be prepared in the event of a maritime accident. I was beyond impressed with the men and women participating in the live field training exercise. Drills like these help expand our capacity to respond and could mean the difference between life and death if a real crisis happens.
I welcomed the news of USDA’s Rural Development program announcing opportunities and grants for our smaller rural communities to obtain assets to improve local health and safety. I joined the Undersecretary of USDA Rural Development, Lisa Mensah, in celebrating this announcement as a new ambulance for the City of Homer was unveiled. In Alaska, so many of our rural communities face limited access to services, and these grants make a big difference for local residents.
Verne and I celebrated 29 wonderful years of marriage last month, but the real stars are my Mom and Dad, who celebrated their 62nd anniversary less than a week later!
I was even able to stop by the grand opening of our state’s first Krispy Kreme shop. This franchise brings at least 60 new jobs to Anchorage.
I hope you all enjoyed the summer in Alaska as much as I did!