Breaking bread with Murkowski

Posted: Sunday, March 14, 2004

Robert Hale is publisher of the Juneau Empire.

Having taken Gov. Frank Murkowski to task more than once for what I thought was his mishandling of the move of the state's ferry system offices to Ketchikan, the opportunity presented itself for us to meet and break bread on Friday.

The meeting, which was the first for the governor and me, was arranged by Dennis Fradley, his communications director. Fradley intervened as an ambassador of goodwill earlier this week as he and I exchanged a couple of verbal volleys over Murkowski's ferry system decision.

Some of my perceptions of Murkowski the man and as governor were not valid, Fradley assured me, and I owed it to myself to get to know him. "The governor, as a person, as a public servant, isn't who you think he is and you'll see that if you spend time with him. He's a warm, personable man."

After an editorial last Wednesday in which we criticized the lack of public process in the decision to move the Alaska Marine Highway System offices out of Juneau, Fradley moved with haste to arrange a meeting between the governor and me. At the outset I suspected the get-together would be, more than anything, a chance for the governor to tell me how wrong we were in our assessment that he was politically working for the benefit of Ketchikan at the expense of Juneau. The issue was never mentioned.

Thursday evening the time and place was set for noon at the governor's mansion on Friday. Lunch would be served and the governor's chief of staff and communications staff would be present. I was a little uneasy with that and called Fradley on Thursday night to let him know.

The meeting with the governor would be no less than amicable, Fradley said, and I would have nothing for which to answer. The invitation was purely social.

As I left the Empire office en route to the governor's mansion Friday, I was expecting the luncheon to be rather formal, uneasy and, well, perhaps stuffy. In hindsight, the uncertainty of what I was going into was by far the worst part.

Lunch was quite nice and the governor, his wife Nancy, and his staff couldn't have been more gracious. I say that not because I was their guest, but because of how I was made to feel as their guest.

Conversation was light and easy: golf, things to see and do in other communities in Southeast and a "must" train ride from Fairbanks to Seward during the spring or summer months. Whether by design or coincidence, talk of politics, legislative issues and even the ferry system were bypassed.

After lunch I told Fradley I appreciated what he had done to help facilitate a meeting between the governor and me. We agreed that we're going to have our disagreements from time to time, but that we want to have dialogue about them as they occur. If we're going to have our say about issues on which we disagree, the governor and his staff want to have the same. Fair enough.

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