Alaska’s Congressional delegation has likes and dislikes in Obama's final State of the Union

Spirit of unity is a plus, declining economy not so much

Sitting in the U.S. Capitol Tuesday night, Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, found some things to like in President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union Address.

“He talked about the unique optimism of the American spirit, which I liked,” Sullivan said by phone after the address.

When it came to policies, however, Sullivan found plenty to dislike.

“What I thought was lacking, was that he didn’t level with the American people on what these challenges are that we face,” he said. “The economy’s not doing well by any historical measure.”

In his reaction, Sullivan didn’t much differ from other members of the Alaska’s Congressional delegation, each of whom attended Tuesday night’s annual address.

While Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican and Alaska’s senior delegate to the U.S. Senate, is a regular attendee of the State of the Union, Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, made a relatively unusual appearance as well. Young attended President Richard Nixon’s final State of the Union address in 1974, then didn’t attend again until 2011.

In a video shared on his website after the hour-long address by Obama, Young said the speech was “one of the … most discouraging speeches I’ve listened to in State of the Union addresses.”

Young went on to say that Obama’s speech “emphasized the fact that the government can do more for you. I think the government can do worse for you.”

Murkowski, speaking in a TV interview after the speech, said the president “had a little more humor tonight than I have heard … but in terms of content and substance, I was disappointed.”

She said she was particularly hoping he would reference the promise the Arctic holds, particularly after he spent three days in Alaska in late summer.

Instead, “I didn’t see it reflected in the president’s speech,” Murkowski said.

Following up with the Empire by phone Wednesday, she said “it just did not seem to me that he was in touch with reality.”

Sullivan, in the same TV interview, said he’d like the president to “unleash the power of the American private sector,” and added by phone afterward that he’s hopeful that the president’s call for less government red tape will result in action.

He said he plans to reach out to the president to see what help he can be in moving that process forward.

Both Sullivan and Murkowski (through her Twitter feed during the speech) said they were concerned about the president’s attention (or lack thereof) to national security issues.

On Twitter, Murkowski noted that 10 U.S. sailors were arrested Tuesday by Iranian officials, who have accused them of spying, yet the president did not mention them in the speech.

The sailors were released Wednesday.

On Wednesday morning, Murkowski said a staffer wrote the tweets — she thinks doing that from the floor would be disrespectful.

Speaking by phone Tuesday, Sullivan mentioned the sailors and five Americans — including a Washington Post reporter — held in Iranian prisons. He said he feels the president has ignored provocative actions against the United States.

“To me, showing weakness is provocative,” Sullivan said. “I think by almost any measure, the world is a more dangerous place than when he took office.”

Murkowski, en route to a House and Senate retreat and “ideas exchange” on Wednesday, said she will be paying close attention to what the president does in regard to oil and coal after his speech.

“I’m still looking to determine exactly what he intended,” she said, adding that it wasn’t clear whether the president was proposing a tax on carbon, a cap-and-trade system for emissions, higher fees on accessing oil and coal, or something else.

“I think we’re still trying to determine whether we need to look at some of this,” she said.

This story was updated Wednesday morning following a phone interview with Sen. Murkowski.


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