Alaska Republicans will go to the polls tomorrow, Super Tuesday, to select their nominee for president.
In Juneau Monday morning, U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan wouldn’t tell reporters who he’s voting for, but he did weigh in on a racism controversy enveloping front-runner Donald Trump. Sullivan was in the Capitol for his annual speech to Alaska lawmakers, in which he stressed the importance of a strong military presence in the state.
Sullivan says the Republicans have a “strong field” of presidential candidates, and he says he plans to support whoever the Republican nominee is. But it sounded like Sullivan might have a tougher time if it’s Trump.
“I’m not saying I support everything he does. I don’t support everything any candidate does. But there’s certain things that are beyond the pale, right?” Sullivan said. “Nobody should ever even remotely contemplate getting support from the KKK. It’s outrageous. It’s idiotic.”
The issue arose this weekend in a CNN interview when Trump declined to disavow the endorsement of former Klan leader David Duke. Trump later blamed the network-supplied earpiece, saying he didn’t hear the question well.
Sullivan talked to reporters after his annual address to the Alaska Legislature. He spoke up for another Republican presidential candidate: He says it’s not true that Ted Cruz has no friends in the Senate.
“Well, it’s not true from my perspective. I get along really well with Sen. Cruz. I like Sen. Cruz.”
Cruz came to Alaska in 2014 to campaign for Sullivan. Alaska’s senior senator, Lisa Murkowski, is campaigning this year, and Sullivan told reporters he endorses her re-election.
“Yeah, I’m supporting Sen. Murkowski,” he said. “Look, she’s the chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. She’s one of the most important people in the country on energy issues that impact our state, and I think she’s doing a very good job.”
It may seem like an obvious endorsement since they’re both Republicans, and Murkowski helped him win his seat. But when asked a few months ago, Sullivan wouldn’t directly say whether he would return the favor, and in the Senate he has repeatedly voted to the right of her, splitting their votes on things like the budget, VA benefits for same-sex couples and climate change.
In his address to the Legislature, Sullivan emphasized his efforts to build up and retain the state’s military assets.
“My No. 1 priority in the past year as your U.S. senator has been to advocate for military policies that enhance the capability of Alaska’s military, Alaska’s triad, of military power, for our nation,” he said.
The senator says in the final year of the Obama Administration, Alaskans can’t expect favorable decisions on resource development.
“As a matter of fact, we’re likely going to be playing defense,” he said. “Unfortunately, this administration, as you all know, is too focused on locking up and controlling more of our lands, on delaying projects.”
Sullivan, though, made a point of recognizing Democrats who had done right by Alaska. He talked about watching a video of three U.S. senators discussing the importance of resource development and military installations in the state.
“You might think they were all members of the current majority in the U.S. Senate. But they weren’t,” Sullivan said. “The year was 1960, and the senators were Scoop Jackson, of Washington state, John F. Kennedy, of Massachusetts, and our own Sen. Bob Bartlett.”
If naming those Democrats from long ago was an effort to win over Democrats among today’s Alaska legislators, it didn’t work on Rep. David Guttenberg of Fairbanks.
“Well, I wasn’t impressed. There wasn’t a lot of content,” Guttenberg said. “You know, we all support the military and certainly Alaska’s role in the developing Arctic.”
Guttenberg says he was turned off by Sullivan’s agreement with Republican leaders to hold no hearings on President Obama’s Supreme Court pick, whoever it might be. And Guttenberg says he would have liked to hear Sullivan talk about the importance of funding Arctic research at the University of Alaska.
“Support for the university, with its vast research arm, is critical to who develops the Arctic,” Guttenberg said. “If we don’t … do the research in Alaska, then somebody else is going to do it Outside, some other university.”
Guttenberg says research money would add jobs to the economy and help Alaska define its future.