Murkowski campaign tries to dump nepotism label

Charges fly hot and heavy in U.S. Senate race

Posted: Sunday, October 24, 2004

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski's political career, unlike her Democratic opponent's, has been anything but charmed.

Her run for office to maintain her seat as Alaska's junior U.S. senator has been plagued by charges of nepotism because her father appointed her to the Senate. Murkowski took the place of her father, Frank Murkowski, after he was elected governor.

Many have claimed that the move constitutes a Murkowski political dynasty. Throughout the campaign she has distanced herself from her father, not showing up at any public appearances with the governor and not involving him in any public way in her campaign.

Lisa Murkowski, 47, has raised $3.7 million in the campaign and spent $2.6 million. She's more than $600,000 ahead of her opponent, Democrat Tony Knowles. Knowles, a former two-term mayor of Anchorage and two-term governor before her father, won most of his campaigns by razor-thin margins. Murkowski faced a tight race in 2002, when she was re-elected to a state House seat in Anchorage.

Murkowski was almost defeated that year by political unknown and anti-abortion candidate Nancy Dahlstrom, who lost by 56 votes.

In 2002, Murkowski voted against a proposal to restrict Medicaid-funded abortions that are considered medically necessary. The bill was approved by the Legislature but was later vetoed by Knowles.

"I may have a very short-lived political future here," Murkowski said on the House floor in 2002. "But you know, I've got great kids, and a great husband, and I'm going to have a good heart, and I'm going to stand up for the Constitution, and I'm going to stand up for the women of the state of Alaska, and I'm going to vote 'no.' "

Since her appointment to the Senate, she has voted in favor of banning partial-birth abortions and recently said she can't be classified under a "convenient label" on the issue.

Murkowski's campaign recently got a shot in the arm through a federal spending bill authorizing $18 billion in loan guarantees for the construction of a natural gas pipeline. The construction project, however, still needs a commodity tax credit in case the price of gas falls.

Murkowski said job creation is the central focus of her campaign.

"As I've been going around the state it doesn't make any difference if I'm here in Southeast talking to fishermen or whether I'm up in Fairbanks talking to miners, people want to know what is it that you can do to bring about economic opportunity and economic vitality," she said.

That includes the gas line, road construction, opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling, and other natural resource development projects. She said the gas line is important because it will provide cheap energy in the state, but Alaska needs roads to get to resources.

"But if we can't get to it, if we can't get it out because it's too expensive to get out, then we're no further ahead than we were 200 years ago," she said.

An issue of local interest is the Cape Fox land trade, which would turn over some land near Berners Bay, north of Juneau, to Cape Fox Corp. to fulfill the state's obligation under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

"What I'm trying to do is I'm trying to get equity for Cape Fox shareholders," she said. "And this exchange is one that was proposed and presented long before I was on the scene. But there are other options out there."

She said her bill in the U.S. Senate might be adjusted next year to accommodate Juneau and Cape Fox shareholders. Cape Fox Corp. is based in Saxman, not far from Murkowski's hometown of Ketchikan.

"When was the last time that most people in Juneau were down in Saxman?" she said. "I think it has been difficult for the people of Juneau to feel good about the exchange because they've got no connection to the folks in Saxman."

• Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at

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