The two major candidates in this year's race for Alaska's seat in the U.S. Senate are unusually similar. Both Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Democratic challenger Tony Knowles are politically savvy, hardworking and well-versed in the issues that are important to Alaskans. Both are extremely supportive of business and back opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. They are both centrists - Knowles is as conservative as Democrats come and Murkowski has sometimes been labeled by members of her own party as "too liberal."
Unfortunately both also have been ruthless in the attack ads that have run this political season and it's turned one of the hottest races in years into one of the ugliest. One Murkowski ad that is patently untrue implies that the election of Knowles will lead to the loss of Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens' chairmanship of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. Stevens will have to relinquish this seat anyway because his term for that post is almost up. While this change may mean a loss for Alaska, it has nothing to do with whether Knowles or Murkowski gets elected.
If anything, Knowles' party affiliation makes him likelier than the current Alaska delegation to get his way on ANWR. After all, Democrats are the ones blocking movement on this issue, not Republicans. Knowles is better positioned to convince Democrats.
During his eight years as Alaska governor, Knowles was staunchly pro-business, pushing for mineral exploration, mining jobs and transportation projects, as well as working to keep oil processing jobs in-state.
Knowles managed to maintain a pro-business position without abandoning measures to protect Alaska's environment. Among other stands, he supported tightening up Alaska's cruise-ship pollution law, which became a nationwide model, and he opposes the Murkowski-sponsored swap of federal lands in Berners Bay, an exchange that has angered hunters and all types of outdoor recreationists.
Knowles also has the advantage of belonging to a party that is not trying to steer him away from stands he has held in the past. Murkowski, on the other hand, increasingly faces pressure from elements of the GOP to move away from the center. She has, quite admirably, been selective in which abortion measures she has supported in the past, eschewing the black-and-white mentality that often prevails and instead voting with discrimination and her conscience.
Already Murkowski has had to deal with the loss of support from right-wing Republican leaders because she is too moderate. Perhaps that's why it is now difficult to get a clear answer from her on whether she would support certain types of stem-cell research. She seems to be careful not to upset the more radical members of her party, making it unclear exactly where she stands.
It would be hard to dispute Murkowski's dedication to Alaskan issues, since her father appointed her to replace him in the Senate in 2002.
Knowles shares many of Murkowski's strengths, and he comes to the table without some of the political baggage Murkowski has had to carry for her party. He hasn't waffled on issues, such as stem-cell research, and he feels no compulsion to appease a particular segment of his party.
Knowles will take to Washington his drive to enhance the state's economy and his desire to preserve - and to develop - our state's natural resources. He deserves Alaskans' support on Election Day.
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