Native voters, corporations provide key Murkowski support

Posted: Tuesday, November 09, 2010

An extraordinary effort by Alaska Natives, particularly Alaska Native Corporations, looks to have swung state's U.S. Senate race from enemy Joe Miller to ally Lisa Murkowski.

Republican incumbent Murkowski has long been an ally of the Native community, but most of the members of the Alaska Native Brotherhood and the Alaska Federation of Natives, as well as the shareholders of the 12 Alaska Native Corporations, are more likely to be Democrats.

When Murkowski announced her improbable write-in bid in September, it was prominent Native leader Albert Kookesh on stage with her. Kookesh is chairman of Sealaska Corp., the Southeast regional Native corporation, as well as co-chair of the Alaska Federation of Natives and a state senator from Angoon.

"The Native corporations got together and kicked off that effort," said John MacKinnon, executive director of the Associated General Contractors of Alaska.

MacKinnon said his members were shocked Murkowski had lost in the primary, but it took the Native corporation's effort to help pull together the broad business community effort on behalf of keeping the state's senior senator in Washington, D.C.

"They offered up the money that got it going, but it didn't take long before it was matched by other business interests in the state," he said.

The Native-led get-out-the-vote effort brought marked success, such as in the Western Alaska village of Anvik, where write-ins, presumably for Murkowski, garnered 31 votes - with not a single vote for McAdams or Miller.

Many of those votes that pushed the number of write-ins to a nearly 7 percentage-point lead over the Republican nominee likely came from Native Democrats, an analysis of precinct-by-precinct results from around the state suggests.

On the opposite sides of Icy Strait, Gustavus, with 4 percent Native population, and Hoonah, with 61 percent Native, show stark contrast.

In Gustavus, Democrat Scott McAdams led the pack with 54 percent of the vote, but drew only 20 percent in Hoonah.

And in Hoonah, write-ins received 54 percent of the vote, while Democrat McAdams got 20 percent. In both cases Miller was in the middle with 27 percent.

That outcome was disappointing for Kim Metcalfe, chair of the Juneau Democrats, who after Miller's surprise primary victory thought little-known McAdams suddenly had a chance.

"Murkowski and Miller would vote the same (in the Senate), I still believe that," she said.

But Metcalfe acknowledged some crucial issues to Native corporations, such as Sealaska's lands bill and small business set-asides, known as 8(a) preferences, for which Native corporations are eligible, led Native voters to vote strategically for Murkowski, who'd been a long time ally.

"That's sure what made the difference," she said.

"There was a big push from Sealaska, and I think a lot of that was the Sealaska lands bill," she said.

In Juneau, with Southeast's largest concentration of Democratic voters, McAdams ran well behind other Democrats on the ballot.

"A certain percentage did vote for (Murkowski) to keep Joe Miller from being elected, and they were likely (Native voters) supporting Sealaska," Metcalfe said.

At the same time, there were concerns about negative comments made by Miller about the lands bill and Native contracting.

He even stepped up those comments as the Native corporations began pouring money into backing Murkowski.

"The Alaska Native Corporations have reaped billions from questionable set-asides and federal contracting programs and Senator Murkowski has fought efforts to reform them. We now know why," Miller said in an October press release.

Those issues may have won Miller some votes in specific locations.

Murkowski, with family ties to southern Southeast, got a strong write-in effort there. But on Prince of Wales Island, where opposition to the Sealaska Lands bill has been focused, Miller won Thorne Bay and Coffman Cove.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or

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