Sen. Murkowski wants to be judged on job performance

Senator will find out how the nepotism issue will play out in GOP primary

Posted: Monday, August 23, 2004

ANCHORAGE - U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski says she hasn't asked Alaskans to like the way she got her job - appointed by her father, Gov. Frank Murkowski.

"What I have asked," she said recently, "is for Alaskans to judge me on my performance."

Murkowski gets her first chance to see how accomplishments stand up to the nepotism issue in Tuesday's primary election against three Republican challengers.

Waiting to take on the winner is the likely Democratic candidate, former Gov. Tony Knowles.

Lisa Murkowski, 47, is a lifelong Alaskan, attorney and thrice-elected legislator who has never before run in a statewide election.

In 2002, her father gave up a U.S. Senate seat he held for 22 years to run for governor, and the Alaska Legislature took note. Before they adjourned, legislators changed state law to allow the new governor and not the incumbent - Knowles - to fill Senate vacancies.

Frank Murkowski subsequently won, took office in Juneau, conducted what he said was an exhaustive search for the Alaskan he said was the most qualified replacement and unveiled a name that had been in no one's betting pool - state Rep. Lisa Murkowski.

Mainstream Republican leaders have embraced her. She's gotten the blessing of Alaska's senior senator, Ted Stevens, who called her "a hell of a lot better senator than her dad ever was."

She's been endorsed by President Bush. Vice President Dick Cheney made a campaign appearance in Anchorage, and there's been a pipeline of cabinet secretaries choosing Alaska to make announcements of federal programs.

Money has poured in to her campaign. Murkowski began campaigning in January 2003 and raised $3.75 million through Aug. 4.

Three Alaska Republicans do not believe she's the best person for the job:

• Former state Senate President Mike Miller, 53, a gift shop owner from North Pole who spent 18 years in the Legislature.

• Wev Shea, 60, the former U.S. attorney for Alaska, now in private practice.

• Perennial candidate Jim Dore, an Anchorage house framer.

Miller has not been subtle in reminding voters of the circumstances of Sen. Murkowski's appointment. A mailer last week showed a frog with a gold crown under the headline, "Kiss monarchy goodbye."

The other prong of his campaign has been tagging Murkowski with the label considered leprous by the Republican Party of Alaska: liberal. Miller bills himself as a "trusted conservative." Murkowski, Miller contends, has amnesia regarding her voting record in Juneau on key issues he believes are important to Alaskans: protection of traditional marriage, gun rights, opposition to abortion and a reduction of the tax burden.

Miller picked up endorsements from Lt. Gov. Loren Leman and former Anchorage Mayor Tom Fink. But he's raised a fraction of Murkowski's total, just $258,616 through Aug. 4, including $200,000 of his own money.

Shea's credentials - Naval flight officer who served in Vietnam, prosecutor, advocate of tough drug laws - are as conservative as Miller's, but he's been beating one drum: corruption in the Republican Party of Alaska, which he said seeps into every issue faced by a senator.

Shea has called out Murkowski and Miller - plus Stevens, Young and the elder Murkowski - for continuing to embrace party Chairman Randy Ruedrich, who paid a $12,000 fine this year for violating state ethics law. Ruedrich admitted to three violations during his tenure as a $118,000-per-year member of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, then continued on as the party leader.

Alaska's chances for persuading representatives from other states to pursue resource development in environmentally sensitive areas begin with honesty and integrity, Shea said. Republicans are supposed to be the party that claims the moral high ground, he said.

"We've got a big, big problem," Shea said. "When Ted and Frank and the rest of them won't address it, it's wrong."

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