Now in her ninth year and her third term as a U.S. senator, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, once again visited Homer. This time, rather than a whirlwind visit, Murkowski made it a working holiday for the Fourth of July, meeting everyone from Seldovia children to burly men in kilts at the Homer Fourth of July parade.
Appointed in 2002 by her father, former Sen. and Gov. Frank Murkowski, after he became governor, Murkowski, 56, won election in 2004. Born 1957 in Ketchikan, she’s the first Alaska-born U.S. senator and Alaska’s first woman elected to national office. In 2010, after being defeated by Joe Miller in the Republican Party primary, Murkowski bounced back to win re-election in a historic write-in campaign, the first U.S. senator to do so since 1954.
Murkowski’s visit started with a talk at the Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center luncheon last July 3. That night she visited Tutka Bay. On the Fourth of July, Murkowski went to Seldovia to help with a groundbreaking ceremony at a value-added fish processing plant and then was honored as the Old Crab in the town parade — an honor shared with the late Sen. Ted Stevens. On the way back to Homer she also toured the Kasitsna Bay Lab. Thursday evening, she was Homer’s Grand Marshal for its Fourth of July parade — perhaps the only Independence Day parade in Alaska held in the evening.
“When you’re trying to pack in a lot, having a parade in the early evening works for me,” Murkowski said.
The chamber luncheon gave Homer the best opportunity to listen to Murkowski speak on local and national issues. In her introductory remarks she set the contrast between the heat of Washington, D.C., and the tranquility of Alaska. On Monday she left D.C. at 6:30 a.m. and by 7:30 p.m. that night was in a skiff heading up the Kuskowkim River to visit fish camps.
“Sometimes you feel like you live in different universes. That was a different universe, and a much better universe,” she said of fish camp.
Seeing Native families harvesting salmon gave her a new appreciation of the importance of fish to Alaskans, she said.
“To think about the significance of salmon as food and really as sustenance, but what I also saw was how families come together to share in harvesting,” she said. “It was a real reminder of who we are as Alaskans and what it is that defines us.”
In her talk, Murkowski gave an overview of D.C. happenings. Late June was a momentous week, she noted, with U.S. Supreme Court decisions on the Voting Rights Act and the Defense of Marriage Act. The Senate also passed by a wide vote its version of an immigration bill. On those issues, Murkowski made these observations:
• On the Voting Rights Act
The Supreme Court sent back to Congress a section of the Voting Rights Act requiring some states, including Alaska, to get authorization from the U.S. Department of Justice before changing voting laws or districts. Congress needed to come up with better information showing why those states still needed federal approval to make voting law changes.
Murkowski said Congress should be careful to respect the rights of minorities. She also said she doesn’t always agree with the Republican Party when it advocates laws like more stringent voter identification.
“A lot of communities around Alaska don’t have access. There’s no DMV (Division of Motor Vehicles) there,” she said of people in the Bush having to get photo identification. “I don’t want to deny the opportunity to vote because you don’t have voter ID and you’ve been an elder in the village for 79 years.”
• On marriage equality
Murkowski got the biggest applause at the chamber luncheon when she reiterated her support for gays and lesbians to marry. “There should not be any discrimination. That due process should be afforded to all,” Murkowski said. “That includes those who have chosen to love somebody of the same sex.”
Last month, Murkowski announced her support for marriage equality, saying that it advanced personal liberty and promoted families.
“I think that it is time that we look at the issue of gay marriage — marriage equality is what I prefer to call it,” she said. “I think it’s important.”
As a Catholic, Murkowski said she respects the beliefs of her church and other faiths that don’t allow same-sex marriage.
“I have said at the same time, I also recognize our religious institutions should be free. If you believe in religious liberty, that absolutely allows for churches and faiths to define marriage as they will,” she said.
• On immigration reform
Immigration reform laws should first address border security, Murkowski said. One issue isn’t immigrants who have snuck over the border but ones who have come here legally and overstayed their welcome, she noted. America should have entry-exit systems that track visitors.
Current immigration reform is not like the amnesty of the 1980s, she said.
“This is really tightening up the border, but allowing for a path to citizenship for those who are here, to get those folks out of the shadows, to put them on the tax rolls, to allow for a better situation for all,” Murkowski said.
• On National Security Agency monitoring of U.S. citizens
Murkowski said she was disturbed by NSA spying on citizens.
“I don’t have anything to hide. I don’t think my husband and boys do, and if my boys do, I’m going to speak to them,” she said. “Reasonable, rational Americans who are going around doing what they do in their daily lives, their personal lives, their privilege is being infringed upon.”
• On sexual assault in the military
Murkowski said she was troubled by sexual assault among military service members.
“They are willing to serve in the most dangerous situations,” she said. “One would not want to believe one of the most dangerous situations would be a violation by your fellow soldier.”
It’s not just women getting raped, Murkowski noted.
“This is violence, this is man on man, this is bad stuff. We ought not to tolerate it anywhere,” she said
In a question-and-answer period, Murkowski talked about gun control, the Affordable Health Care Act and fisheries.
• On gun control:
“We do have a loophole, and this is gun shows,” Murkowski said about firearms registration laws. She didn’t support a recent registration law, though, because it didn’t address the situation of rural Alaskans living in remote Bush villages being able to buy guns.
“You would have had to fly to Bethel or Fairbanks to purchase a gun, to pick it up from a licensed firearm dealer,” she said. “I’m a big proponent of gun laws … We know we have way too many firearms deaths. We have to address that.”
• On the Affordable Health Care Act:
Former Mayor and Judge James Hornaday asked Murkowski what she thought of the prospects for the Affordable Health Care Act, commonly called Obamacare.
“I’m glad you saved the easy question for last,” she said. “I have never been optimistic that this Affordable Care Act will make a difference.”
How some provisions, such as insurance exchanges, would work remain to be seen, she said.
“I wish we had some policies in place to reduce the cost of health care so you can afford it,” Murkowski added.
• On fisheries
In response to a question about the halibut catch sharing plan, Murkowski said she had already sent a letter to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration asking that the comment period be extended 45 days (see story, page X).
The Magnuson-Stevens Act also is coming up for reauthorization.
“From an Alaskan perspective, we know what we need to do,” she said. “Where we need to be united is against the fisheries organizations Outside.”
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.