My Turn: Murkowski ads misrepresent Knowles' job record

Posted: Wednesday, July 28, 2004

There they go again! Alaskans feeling a queasy sense of déj vu from the latest attack ads from Americans for Job Security shouldn't be surprised. This is the same truth-challenged group that attacked the Knowles-Ulmer record two years ago on behalf of Frank Murkowski. Given the current governor's lackluster performance creating jobs, it's ironic that AJS is now propping up his daughter.

Let's look at the record. Mining employment in Alaska flourished during the Knowles administration. Greens Creek went back into production, Fort Knox came on line, and Red Dog expanded. Knowles sued over EPA inflexibility at Red Dog, and bucked opposition to allow construction of the road to Pogo.

The Knowles record: Metal mining employment increased 30 percent, from 886 jobs in 1994 to 1,153 in 2002. Steve Borell of the Alaska Miners Association applauded the Knowles administration for being "very good to work with."

Attempts by AJS and Murkowski to blame the problems of the logging industry on Knowles are equally ludicrous. When Clinton included the Tongass and Chugach forests in his "roadless rule," Knowles sought an exemption, brokered a meeting between Louisiana Pacific and the Agriculture secretary, and took Southeast mayors to the White House to make their case. When Clinton still didn't listen, Knowles sued him to block the rule.

The Knowles record: Annual timber sales for state lands nearly doubled between 1994 and 1998. Jack Phelps of the Alaska Forest Association said, "The fact is, the Knowles administration has been pretty doggone supportive of the timber industry."

Nowhere is the difference between Knowles' reality and Murkowski's fiction more obvious than in the oil patch. Knowles pushed through areawide leasing and North Star legislation which created millions of hours of work for Alaska workers on North Star, Alpine, NPRA, and other new fields. That made for busy winters for Fairbanks union members, and Knowles pushed for creation of a whole new module fabrication industry in Anchorage.

All the current governor has done is give oil companies a $50 million tax break on fields they have already developed. Not surprisingly, that hasn't translated into any work anywhere.

And when we talk about good jobs in Alaska, we should include our second highest paying industry: construction. Employment there increased from an annual average of 12,778 in 1994 to 15,925 in 2002. In fact, during peak construction months in 2002, the industry employed more than 19,000 workers.

Equally important was the increase in resident hire and wages in construction during the period. In 1994, 75.2 percent of construction workers in Alaska were residents and they earned $470.6 million. When Knowles left office in 2002, Alaska residents made up 80 percent of the construction work force and earned $708.5 million.

In a desperate attempt to distort Knowles' record, both AJS and Murkowski flaunt misleading and downright bogus data. The Murkowski campaign tries to dispute Knowles record on job creation by citing federal survey estimates instead of the real job numbers reported by employers to the Alaska Department of Labor.

Look at those more accurate figures and you'll see that Alaska businesses employed an average of 256,829 workers before Knowles took office, and by the time he left, that annual average was up to 292,286 workers. That's an increase of 35,457 jobs during the Knowles years, a far cry from the 18,000 jobs computed by the fuzzy math of the Murkowski campaign.

Sure, some of those jobs may have been flipping burgers. But all those Alaskans worked up an appetite on the job and they've got to eat, don't they?

• Ed Flanagan was commissioner of the state Department of Labor from 1999 to 2002 under Gov. Tony Knowles.

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