Alaska’s Sen. Lisa Murkowski is on a campaign trip around the state during a month-long Senate recess.
During a brief layover Wednesday in Ketchikan on her way to Sitka, she talked about the state’s Republican primary campaign, and about the presidential election.
Alaska’s primary election is less than a month away.
On Aug. 16, registered voters will go to the polls and choose which candidates they want to see on the November ballot.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski will be on the Republican primary ballot, along with her competitors, Paul Kendall and Thomas Lamb of Anchorage, and Bob Lochner of Wasilla.
Murkowski vividly recalls her last re-election six years ago, when she lost the primary and then launched a successful write-in campaign. While that worked, she doesn’t really want to do it again.
“I had, I think, what we would all recall as a rather tumultuous election back in 2010, and some people have said, ‘Well, we haven’t heard from your other opponents; things must just be fine.’ We certainly are working to make sure that things are fine, but certainly not taking anything for granted,” she said
Murkowski said she’s focused on reminding constituents of the Alaska issues that she’s worked on, such as access to land, developing energy resources, healthcare, substance abuse, and financial support during a state budget crisis.
“It’s a tough time in the state right now — I think we all recognize that,” she said. “So part of what I view my role and responsibility back in the Senate is to do everything that I can to provide some stability, and clarity and predictability at the federal level.”
Murkowski said that Alaska’s capital budget this year is more than 85 percent federally funded projects. She wants to keep those funding sources stable.
“So, whether it’s a six-year highway bill, so that we know what that flow of money is going to look like; whether it’s the PILT monies, secure rural schools, of course, very, very important down here in Ketchikan,” she said.
Secure Rural Schools and federal Payments in Lieu of Taxes, or PILT, are meant to help communities make up, at least in part, the loss of property taxes from the vast amount of federal land within their borders that can’t be taxed. This year, the Ketchikan Gateway Borough received about $1.1 million through the PILT program.
Murkowski said she skipped the recent Republican National Convention because she wanted to focus instead on touching base with her constituents, and she has only 30 days to reach as many as possible.
“In the past 10 days or so, I’ve been up on the Yukon, up on the Kuskokwim, up in Fairbanks, down on the Kenai Peninsula, I was in Petersburg yesterday, Wrangell this morning, I’m gonna be in Sitka this evening, going up to Anchorage and Fairbanks and the Mat-Su Valley over the weekend, and then Kotzebue and Nome. So, I’m everywhere,” she said.
While she didn’t attend the GOP convention, Murkowski said she has been paying attention, and there’s plenty to consider from both the Republican and Democratic conventions.
“I do think that it is interesting that we’re moving forward, as Republicans and Democrats, with two nominees who, if I understand correctly, are probably the least-liked nominees in recent political history,” she said.
Murkowski said she’s already familiar with Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, who is a former U.S. senator and secretary of state.
“And, as an Alaskan coming from a resource-production state, she has made clear that the policies that she holds on energy and I think resource production generally would make it very difficult for our state,” Murkowski said.
Murkowski said she’s less familiar with Republican nominee Donald Trump.
“You got three, four months here to figure it out, but I’m worried that the choices that we have in front of us as a nation are ones that lack the enthusiasm that I would like to have in our national candidates,” she said.
So, since her own Senate write-in campaign was successful six years ago, would Murkowski consider a write-in campaign for U.S. president?
“No way! No, no, no,” she said, laughing. “I am happy to be able to represent the people of Alaska in the United States Senate. That, in and of itself, is a big enough job. We’ll leave that to others to take on the White House.”
In addition to her two Republican primary opponents, other candidates are seeking Murkowski’s seat on the Senate.
Democrats running in the primary are Edgar Blatchford and Ray Metcalf, both of Anchorage, and Cean Stevens, an Anchorage Libertarian, according to the state Division of Elections’ website.
At one point, Murkowski also faced Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan on the Republican ballot, but he has since withdrawn.
U.S. Senate candidates who will not be on the primary ballot, but will be on the general ballot in November are Breck Craig of Anchorage, Ted Gianoutsos of Anchorage, Sidney Hill of Palmer, Margaret Stock of Anchorage, Bruce Walden of Wasilla and Jed Whittaker of Anchorage.