This is the 21st century

Murkowski's actions reflect an understanding of the times

Posted: Sunday, July 23, 2006

The last time this writer looked at a calendar this is 2006, not 1906. It was in April 1906 that Wilford Hoggatt had to take a mail boat from Juneau to the isolated town of Sitka to be sworn in as governor of Alaska. After the swearing in, he put the office of the governor in his pocket and took it to the more accessible town of Juneau.

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But this is 2006. Men have walked on the moon. A shuttle just completed the 55th trip to the world's fourth space station.

In a recent week, Alaska's governor took the state's jet to a Native conference in Fairbanks, back to a legislative meeting in Juneau, to a dedication of the state's first veterans' home in Palmer and to a number of other places around the state.

For this he is criticized, although Alaskans want their governor at their events.

Also, we have a big surprise for those who are living in the last century. The Murkowski administration folded the Fish and Game Protection Division into the Alaska State Troopers, despite the squeals of affected state employees. More squeals when other state agencies were merged for efficiency. But reorganizing the troopers reduced management and put 40 more pairs of boots on the ground. Plus, the administration has hired 25 new troopers.

Now the surprise: The troopers are being taught to fly Cessna 185s so that with the jet, which belongs to their department and on which they have priority, they can respond sooner to any point in the state.

The state's electronic communications have been improved, saving more than $200,000 a year alone with a new Internet law library - the first in the nation. This is the 21st century.

We warn those who sit happily in Juneau, requiring the other 57 lawmakers to make their way to a capital that is becoming relatively more inaccessible as travel improves elsewhere: Check history.

Alaska Steamship Co. went out of the passengers business in October 1954 because of the high cost of operating what some termed as outdated "Rust Buckets." All of Alaska Steam's vessels at that time, except for the Victoria, were newer than any of the mainline state ferries today, except for the Kennicott.

This 21st century administration seeks to extend Glacier Highway to the Katzehin River Delta, almost straight across Lynn Canal from Haines. It will be seven miles to the Haines terminal and 15 miles to Skagway. DOT requested proposals in June to design fast day boats that will make seven trips a day to Haines and four a day to Skagway for more convenience at lower cost for the traveler, and at a lower cost of operation for the state.

This writer and Jeff Jones, publisher of the Alaska Journal of Commerce, appear to be the only journalists not afraid to point out a few accomplishments of the Murkowski administration and of the Legislature. Of more than 100 bills passed by the Legislature last session, 20 percent were requested by the governor. Murkowski supporters, like those of the former Gov. Tony Knowles, have compiled a list of accomplishments - 368. There must be a good story in there somewhere. Instead, it is implied that the governor is corrupt for having the state purchase a jet instead of using the turbo-prop, popular with Gov. Knowles.

Murkowski is criticized for eliminating the Longevity Bonus although the intention of that bonus was killed by a court decision years ago. Those in need are still cared for. He is criticized for ending a revenue sharing program that gave cash to cities back when the state was saddled with a deficit. Now that the state has money again, only the governor suggests a way of getting money to the local level, $1,000 grants to property owners. There are better ideas but it's a start.

An apprentice program is required for the first time on all state construction jobs, another first in the nation. Highway improvements are programmed, and plans are being made to train gas pipeline workers.

The governor is criticized for failure to seek funds to complete the Swan Lake-Tyee Lake Intertie. Alaska is faced with a lawsuit to block extending power from Juneau to Greens Creek and Hoonah. So, the governor has called a power meeting for July 31 in Petersburg, to which he and other state officials will probably have to take the jet to meet their schedules. The meeting is to seek 21st-century solutions to Southeast Alaska's power problems, including interties.

The governor is criticized for appointing his daughter to his U.S. Senate seat. But she proved competent enough to beat a former two-term governor, 149,000 to 139,000, in a later election for the post.

"Again and again, his critics say he doesn't listen to people," one reporter wrote. That writer might be interviewing the wrong people or asking the wrong questions. Murkowski's opponents say he should not have signed a $2.3 billion capital budget to finance 1,200 projects. He should have saved more. We ask, what projects in their districts would each have vetoed?

Oh, and if elected, do they plan to sell the jet?

• Lew M. Williams Jr. is the retired publisher of the Ketchikan Daily News who has been a Southeast Alaska journalist since 1946.

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