Alaska Editorial: Alaska can't afford weakened U.S. reps

Posted: Monday, August 06, 2007

Having two-thirds of Alaska's congressional delegation associated with the words "criminal inquiry" is without question unsettling.

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The sooner this can be settled, the better off Alaska will be.

The Wall Street Journal, in a sketchy story based on anonymous sources, reported last week that U.S. Rep. Don Young is the subject of a criminal probe into his alleged ties to VECO Corp., the oil field services company at the center of a separate probe that has ensnared four former members of the Alaska legislature. The federal government is also looking into VECO's connections to an extensive remodeling of U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens' home in Girdwood.

Sen. Stevens, as he has throughout media reports of the FBI inquiry, issued a statement saying he will not comment so that the investigation can "proceed to its conclusion without any appearance that I have attempted to influence its outcome." The senator, who is seeking re-election next year, added that he would like Alaskans to withhold judgment, citing "incomplete and sometimes incorrect reports in the media."

It's an appropriate and fair request.

Rep. Young hasn't yet commented on the Wall Street Journal revelation. The Journal story, however, falls short of being concrete because word of the probe was attributed only to "people close to the case." And a lot of the story, which included mention of the inquiry into Sen. Stevens' relations with VECO, had already been reported elsewhere. Rep. Young will need to say something, however, as more details emerge - as they surely will.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, meanwhile, is having to continually answer questions about what could be considered a sweetheart deal that she received on the purchase of some land along the Kenai River. The land was sold well below market value by noted real estate developer Bob Penney, a prominent figure on the Kenai Peninsula. KTUU-Channel 2 in Anchorage reported on Wednesday that Sen. Murkowski had some concerns about that when signing the sales agreement. "This might come back to bite us we'll deal with that when it comes," her husband, in a story for KTUU, recounted her saying.

Sen. Murkowski was also reportedly surprised at the public criticism of the land purchase. She shouldn't be, however.

These are rough times for the Alaska congressional delegation. Each of the three is in the minority in Congress, and their colleagues on each side of the aisle are increasingly loath to help a state with a $40 billion permanent fund. Those two facts mean that Alaska must have effective members of Congress. But effectiveness decreases when opponents sense that the members are politically weakened. To what extent Sens. Stevens and Murkowski and Rep. Young have been weakened isn't clear yet.

What is clear is that Alaska can't afford to have weakened members of Congress.

This state should hope that the problems plaguing its members of Congress are resolved soon. To the extent that Sens. Stevens and Murkowski and Rep. Young can help that process along, they should.

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