ANCHORAGE - U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski laid out an ambitious plan Wednesday to overhaul Alaska's public safety system if he is elected governor.
Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, would appoint more accountable leaders to achieve his goal, he said at a luncheon with the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce. He said making Alaska a safer place would be his administration's highest priority.
"We need to get back to the basics of accountability and working together to build a bright future for our children and our grandchildren," Murkowski said, reading from a prepared text.
Murkowski is considered the front-runner for his party in the race for governor in the Aug. 27 primary.
He said his public safety policy would, among other things:
Bring more law enforcement to Bush communities and provide better training for village public safety officers.
Put tougher judges in the courts. Murkowski said he would appoint Judicial Council members who would nominate judicial candidates "who are more interested in law enforcement than in coddling criminals."
Bring Alaska's "antiquated" criminal code up to date.
Expand existing prisons and, if necessary, build a new state prison. Murkowski said he opposes private prisons.
"By bringing our prisoners home," Murkowski said, "we can create jobs here in Alaska, not in Arizona (where some Alaska convicts are housed in a private prison). By incarcerating them at home, near their families and communities, we can give them a better chance at rehabilitation."
Murkowski didn't specify how improvements would be paid for other than to say he would re-prioritize existing funds and also anticipated increased revenues from oil and gas industries.
Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, the leading contender among Democrats in the governor's race, said much of Murkowski's public safety agenda sounds like a chapter out of Gov. Tony Knowles' tenure.
Ulmer said the Knowles administration has long sought to boost the VPSO system, increase law enforcement officers and expand the prison system - only to be thwarted by a Republican-led Legislature.
"In spite of that, we've seen an overall reduction in crime," said Ulmer, who has been endorsed by the Public Safety Employees Association. "We're doing some things right. Our law enforcement community is doing a great job given the resources they've had to work with."