My Turn: What Senator's newsletter said about the gov's jet

Posted: Thursday, January 26, 2006

Gov. Frank Murkowski's so mad at me I think I hear a sonic boom.

Here's what the governor told members of the capitol press corps on the first day of the legislative session: "I was OK until I read the Ear (the Anchorage Daily News column that reprinted part of my newsletter's jet itinerary report) about our friend Kim Elton. I thought it was a cheap shot so I'm going to aim for his head the first chance I get. I flew in with my wife from Hawaii over Thanksgiving. The only flight we could get was INA, a charter outfit, and the only flight they had was to Las Vegas. And I had a meeting in Dallas. So Jim (Clark) and (Mike) Menge and several flew down in the jet to Dallas, then the plane came over and got me at a quarter to seven and we flew down to Dallas for a meeting. The way it was reported was 'a junket to Las Vegas,' which I thought was a pretty cheap shot. If that is a junket to Las Vegas, I missed the boat."

Uffda! I'd be ashamed of myself if any of what the governor told the press reflected what I really did say.

I'm glad, though, the governor expressed, instead of repressed, his anger. Giving me a "heads up" about going for my head gives me a chance to clear up the great pile of misinformation he was given. Here's what my newsletter actually said about the Las Vegas jet trip:

"The state spent $7,338 on the jet's round trip between Dallas and Las Vegas but if the passengers had flown commercially the most expensive coach passenger tickets would have totaled just $1,468 while the least expensive tickets would have cost $398 (Expedia)."

I didn't know, until the governor "clarified," that the sole purpose of the jet trip was to fly from Dallas to Vegas to pick up the governor and bring him back to Dallas. The jet log simply said one state employee to Las Vegas from Dallas and two back.

It doesn't matter how you parse the words I used in my newsletter - you can't get the governor's name from it or find the word "junket." In fact, I didn't report it as anything but the jet's roundtrip between Dallas and Vegas. I would hope the governor takes the time to actually read what I reported, and maybe if he's still angry, he can go for the head of whoever misreported to him what I reported.

No need to apologize, governor. Every once in a while I get bad information too.

But now that the governor has "outed" himself as the passenger who needed to get from Vegas to Dallas after his Hawaii break, there are some obvious questions. (By the way, I'm not mentioning Hawaii again just to be coy. My wife and I cashed in airline miles and we had Thanksgiving back east. The governor and his wife probably needed a vacation even more than Marylou and I.)

But now that we know who rode the jet on that leg, Alaskans should ask the governor why he needed the jet get him from Vegas to Dallas.

• Especially when there are 97 commercial flights a day from Vegas to Dallas.

• Especially when it ended up costing the state $7,338.

• Especially when he could have bought the most expensive commercial first class ticket from Vegas to Dallas for $6,500 less.

Anyway, now that we've cleared things up, I hope the governor forgets about going for my head now that he knows I didn't call his trip a junket or even mention his name. And I'm glad the governor did call me friend in the midst of his outburst. He and I may disagree about the jet and other public policy issues but I do think both of us can disagree on policies in a way that keeps us friends.

• Kim Elton is a Democratic state senator from Juneau.

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