Sullivan strikes partisan tone while talking up bipartisanship to Alaska Legislature

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U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan addresses a joint session at the Alaska Legislature on Tuesday, April 19, 2022 in Juneau, Alaska. (Screen capture from Gavel Alaska)

With Interior Secretary Deb Haaland visiting his state, U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan on Tuesday aired his dissatisfaction with her progress on oil development in the Arctic and other Alaska issues.

“I won’t sugarcoat it. My relationship with Secretary Haaland has been strained,” he said in his annual address to the Alaska Legislature. “I’ve called her numerous times, reminding her of her pledges that she gave me during our meetings before she was confirmed. I’ve let her know that many of the actions taken by the department under her leadership are hurting our people.”

Sullivan told legislators he was trying to take a different approach than he did in his speech last year, when he bashed President Biden for what he considers an anti-Alaska agenda.

“If you didn’t notice, I was pretty worked up,” he said.

Instead, he said, he wanted to focus this year’s address on pressing the federal government on matters all Alaskans could get behind.

“Today should be about where we can all work together — all of us, Democrats, Republicans, independents — on issues that we should focus on,” he said. “And there are many of these issues that truly matter for our state, our future and the wonderful people we are all privileged to represent.”

But most of the issues Sullivan named as bipartisan have significant opposition, and several Democrats were purposely absent.

State Sen. Tom Begich, D-Anchorage, watched on TV from his office.

“I’m tired of listening to him attack Democrats when he takes that forum,” Begich said. “It’s disrespectful.”

Begich said Sullivan talked up bipartisanship but is among those who treat politics as a partisan “bloodsport.”

“The bottom line is if you spend your time always criticizing the other side, it doesn’t get you to bipartisanship,” Begich said.

Sullivan’s list of issues he said all Alaskans can get behind included:

  • The long-sought road for King Cove. Residents of King Cove say the road would save lives, by providing access to Cold Bay’s all-weather airport. But the road would go through a protected wilderness area in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. Environmentalists say a road would harm important habitat for migratory waterfowl and other wildlife.
  • Permitting oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and ConocoPhillips’ Willow Project in the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska. While Alaska Native corporations support drilling in these areas, some communities, tribes and environmental groups oppose them.
  • The Ambler road, to aid mining in Northwest Alaska. Like Arctic drilling, the Ambler road and proposed mining is controversial among Native communities and opposed by environmental groups.

After Sullivan’s address last year to the Alaska Legislature, Democrats in the state Senate wrote him and said his speech damaged the bipartisan cooperation many legislators strive for.

Legislators who were in the chamber for his address this year joined Sullivan in cheering the end of the federal mask mandate for air travel. At the conclusion of the speech, lawmakers gave Sullivan a standing ovation.

Alaska Public Media

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