Stevens: Keep the GOP team in D.C.

Posted: Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Sen. Ted Stevens went to bat for a fellow Republican on Monday, spending much of his annual address to the Alaska Legislature recounting Sen. Lisa Murkowski's achievements.

Throughout his televised speech to the Legislature, Stevens underscored the need for the GOP congressional delegation to remain intact.

Murkowski will face her first election challenge in November since being appointed by her father, Gov. Frank Murkowski, to fill his unexpired term.

Dogged by charges of nepotism and a negative backlash to unpopular budget cuts made by Gov. Murkowski, Lisa Murkowski is expected to face a tough election bid on Nov. 2.

Former two-term Gov. Tony Knowles is her most viable challenger and has the backing of Senate Democrats who have made Alaska a key battleground state.

Stevens, who is the most influential politician in Alaska, said he would campaign for Murkowski.

"She's up against a lot of comment about how she got there. To me that's immaterial," Stevens said. "She's doing a real good job."

Murkowski worked to include incentives for a natural gas pipeline in the energy bill that is now stalled in Congress, Stevens said.

She also secured funding for the Denali Commission within the energy bill to develop alternative energy sources, construct energy transmission systems and aid rural communities, he said.

The Senate passed a highway bill that includes $180 million for more rural roads that Murkowski secured in the final hours, Stevens said. A new Denali Transportation Commission would receive $30 million a year for six years under the measure.

Murkowski also sought $120 million for ferry construction nationwide and upgrades and worked with the Alaska delegation for more money for teacher housing and Medicare reimbursements, Stevens said.

Stevens said Murkowski has worked in concert with him and Rep. Don Young to secure initiatives that are important to Alaska.

Murkowski serves on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Stevens steps down as chairman of the influential Senate Appropriations Committee in January 2005.

Murkowski's race could tip the balance of power in the Senate where the GOP holds a 51-48 advantage, Stevens said. With a Republican majority, Stevens would remain as Senate President Pro Tempore and keep key posts on several subcommittees, he said.

"I think I have a conflict of interest perhaps, but I hope she's re-elected. I believe these positions I have are very important to the state," Stevens said.

A spokesman for the Knowles campaign said Alaska would also benefit by a bipartisan congressional delegation.

"Ted Stevens and Tony Knowles would be an unstoppable team for Alaska in getting things done in the U.S. Senate," said Knowles spokesman Bob King.

Knowles was not mentioned during the speech - which was carried on the public access television show "Gavel to Gavel" - and Stevens said he would not campaign against the former governor.

"I've really not been in the habit of campaigning against anybody," Stevens told reporters afterwards. "I will be campaigning for her. I won't be campaigning against any opponent."

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