While Juneau residents protested the Iraq war outside the Capitol, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski spoke inside to a joint session of the Alaska Legislature, which cheered her support of the troops.
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Murkowski, R-Alaska, cautioned against sending a message that the Congress did not support the troops.
"We must not cut off funding for our troops," she said.
Murkowski said she has "hugged the widows of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice."
She also said she wants to review strategies and policies in Iraq to make certain the United States stays on the right track.
Rep. Andrea Doll, D-Juneau, wife of a retired Navy officer, applauded Murkowski's support of the troops but was less happy with her support of the president.
"Simply talking about the need to take care of our troops, I think that's something everyone agrees on," she said.
Murkowski has been skeptical of President Bush's plan for a troop buildup in Iraq, but Thursday she said only that the topic has received too much discussion, and the long-term prospects in Iraq too little.
Doll said that while Murkowski was inside not explaining her positions, protesters outside were standing in bitter cold, banging on pots and pans protesting her support for President Bush.
The message of the pots and pans, Doll said, is "we're coming from our homes. This is as grass-roots as you can get."
Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, agreed with Doll. She liked what she heard from Murkowski, except about Iraq.
"I think we have no business being in Iraq," she said.
Murkowski also talked about reworking the federal No Child Left Behind Act to better fit the unique needs of Alaska. Congress won't adopt an "Alaska only" fix, she said, but Alaska's delegation can work with others with similar concerns to address the problems.
One improvement, she said, is to boost the role of parents in their children's' schools.
Rep. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, has been advocating that in the Alaska Legislature for some time.
"When the parent gets involved in the school, the kids do better," Wilson said. "With the research they have, they know that is true."
Murkowski also spoke of the urgency to complete a gas pipeline deal, even though there was already widespread agreement on the issue within the Legislature.
Sharon Leighow, spokeswoman for Gov. Sarah Palin, said the gas line was one of the chief topics of conversation at a two-hour lunch Murkowski had with the new governor after speaking to the Legislature.
Juneau Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, said he found himself in broad agreement with Murkowski's statements on improving health care and education in Alaska, using energy more efficiently and securing a gas pipeline for the state.
"I didn't hear anything that was disconcerting to me on issues the Alaska Legislature deals with," he said.
He disagreed with some of her Iraq views.
"I think you can absolutely support the troops, while at the same time asking the people who put them in harm's way to defend what they are doing."
Pat Forgey can be reached at email@example.com.
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