"I'm not up here as a magician," U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski told legislators this week, when asked about how to solve the subsistence issue.
State Sen. Georgianna Lincoln, a Democrat from Rampart, appealed to Murkowski for advice during the question-and-answer session following the Republican senator's annual address to the Legislature.
"We seem to be absolutely deadlocked," Lincoln said. "I think we have to break this gridlock some way."
Murkowski reminded the Legislature that there are only two ways to resolve the issue - either by amending the Alaska Constitution to allow a rural preference for subsistence during a time of shortage, a move that fell short in the Senate in 1999, or by amending the federal law requiring the preference.
A change at the federal level is possible, but only if Alaskans can unite on an approach, Murkowski said. In the meantime, no one should think that the Bush administration will fail to enforce the existing federal law, he said.
Problems with the current "dual management" track for subsistence were discussed in a meeting of the joint legislative committee on reviewing administrative regulations.
House Majority Leader Jeannette James, a North Pole Republican, described the conflict as federal officials managing fish resources only for subsistence and state officials managing for a sustainable resource.
Ron Somerville, a former Fish and Game official who works for the Republican majority, said there are dozens of troublesome federal regulations, notably the designation of the Kenai Peninsula as rural.
But Lincoln, who supported a constitutional amendment for a rural preference, said: "What did you expect? We gave the feds freedom to come in and manage our fisheries under their regulations. The only thing I'm surprised by is they haven't come in, in force yet."
Sen. Robin Taylor, a Republican from Wrangell, rejected the idea that Alaska effectively invited the feds in. Congress passed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which includes the rural preference, without consulting Alaskans, he said. But the federal government has overstepped its authority and eventually will be overruled in court in the subsistence-related Katie John and Glacier Bay cases, Taylor predicted.
Juneau Sen. Kim Elton cites as "an annual groaner" another invitation he received to join a national group of women legislators, "apparently because of the unisex nature of my first name."
In his weekly newsletter, Elton said he had hoped for better this year because the organization's new president is named Robin - "a name that Alaska's Sen. Robin Taylor would also argue is one of those unisex appellations."
The news media have been taking our lumps at the Capitol recently.
Murkowski, without explaining, dismissed as inaccurate an in-depth newspaper package on logging in Southeast. A press officer for the Republican majority in the state Senate put out a news release complaining about a pattern of mistakes about legislative confirmation of the governor's appointees to the Board of Game. A television reporter was observed hearing separate complaints from two legislators about the same story on a rail link to the Lower 48. And, sigh, I have been alleged to have my faults, too.
But, in another annoying reference to Minnesota, I can't help but note how much better off we are here. Gov. Jesse Ventura has just issued mandatory press credentials for his events that label a reporter as an "official jackal." At least the assumption here is that we're human, however flawed.
"We take his oil and put it in our airplanes to go bomb him." - Murkowski, on Saddam Hussein and America's dependence on foreign oil
"I don't know how they're going to handle Bill because he's got every right to be there." - Murkowski, referring to the Clintons and the U.S. Senate spouses' association
"What was that guy's name? Alexander Haig?" - Sen. Jerry Ward, referring to Haig's "I am in charge here" gaffe after the Reagan assassination attempt, while taking over the gavel in the Senate Finance Committee when the co-chairmen didn't show up on time
Bill McAllister can be reached at email@example.com.