Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R)
Elected: Appointed Dec. 2002, term expires 2010, 1st full term.
Born: May 22, 1957, Ketchikan .
Education: Willamette U., 1975-77, Georgetown U., B.A. 1980, Willamette U., J.D. 1985.
Family: Married (Verne Martell); 2 children.
Elected office: AK House of Reps., 1998-02.
Professional Career: Anchorage Dist. Court Clerk's Office, atty., 1987-89; Practicing atty., 1989-98.
Lisa Murkowski is a Republican who was appointed to the Senate in December 2002 by her father, then Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski, to fill the vacancy caused by his own resignation from the Senate to become governor. The appointment was assailed by critics in both major parties as nepotism. But once in office, Lisa Murkowski performed ably for the final two years of her father’s term, and then won a full term in her own right in 2004. She became the first woman elected to Congress from Alaska. She is up for re-election in 2010.
|Lisa Murkowski (R)||149,773||(49%)||($5,465,098)|
|Tony Knowles (D)||140,424||(46%)||($5,768,963)|
|Lisa Murkowski (R)||45,710||(58%)|
|Mike Miller (R)||29,313||(37%)|
The second of six children, Murkowski grew up in Ketchikan in Alaska’s Panhandle and in Fairbanks. In her senior year of high school, she worked for five weeks as an intern in Republican Sen. Ted Stevens’s Washington office. She attended Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, and graduated from Georgetown in 1980, the year her father was first elected to the Senate. Murkowski went on to get a degree from Willamette law school in 1985. She served as an Anchorage District Court attorney, worked for an Anchorage law firm for eight years, and then established her own law practice. In 1998, she was elected to the state House from a north Anchorage district that included her neighborhood of Government Hill.
Alaska’s state government depends heavily on revenues from North Slope oil and in early 2002 was facing a budget shortfall of $1.1 billion. Murkowski was one of the leaders of the bipartisan Fiscal Policy Caucus, which sought tax increases—a position opposite to that of her father, who was running for governor on a platform of no new taxes. Murkowski pushed hard for increasing the alcohol tax from 3 cents a drink to 10 cents, and her bill was enacted, giving Alaska the nation’s highest alcohol tax. Some conservatives referred to her and her allies as RIMs, “Republican invertebrate moderates.” She also angered conservatives when she voted against a bill restricting publicly funded abortions. She said, “I may have a very short-lived political future here. 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 women of the state of Alaska, and I’m going to vote no.” But she has also said that abortion should be legal only when a mother’s life is in danger or in cases of rape or incest. In March 2003, she said she favored a ban on partial-birth abortion. Still, Alaska Right to Life opposed her in 1998, claiming, “She is not pro-life.” She had a tough fight for re-election in 2002 against conservative Nancy Dahlstrom, who attacked her for favoring tax increases and tapping the state’s Permanent Fund to pay its bills. Murkowski won by only 57 votes. After the election, she was chosen state House majority leader.
That same year, her father, with two years left in his U.S. Senate term, was elected governor. (Republican state legislators saw to it that he, and not outgoing Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles, appointed a successor. Earlier in the year, they passed, over Knowles’s veto, a law barring a governor from appointing a successor until five days after the vacancy occurred.) Murkowski said he was looking for someone with legislative experience who was young enough to serve many years and who shared his views on Alaska issues. He unveiled a short list of 26 potential nominees that included Gen. Joseph Ralston, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe; retired Gen. Mark Hamilton, president of the University of Alaska; Jerry Hood, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 959 and a Republican; Francis Hurley, the retired Catholic Archbishop of Anchorage; state Senate Majority Leader Ben Stevens, son of Ted Stevens; and finally, his daughter.
On Dec. 20, 2002, he announced that he had decided to appoint Lisa Murkowski. It was the first time a governor had appointed his or her child to the Senate. Most Republicans and many Democrats praised Murkowski’s abilities, but others called it a case of nepotism that would undermine public trust in the office. For her part, Murkowski maintained that she and her father kept their political lives separate. “We have always maintained very separate identities, at least for the time I have been in the legislature,” she said. “I haven’t called him for counseling, and typically he doesn’t offer.”
As she served the remaining two years of her father’s term, Murkowski was acutely aware that she would be closely watched by her critics for signs that she was not up to the job. She proved not only competent, but with help from powerful fellow Senate Republicans, she exceeded expectations for a freshman senator. She got seats on the Energy, Environment, Veterans and Indian Affairs committees, putting her at the center of most issues important to Alaska. Longtime family friend Ted Stevens took her under his wing. As a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, he was then one of the most influential members of Congress. Her biggest success came in October 2004, when she sponsored a measure creating federal loan guarantees for a 3,500-mile pipeline to bring natural gas from the North Slope to the lower 48, a major economic venture for the state. Her pipeline bill, with the guiding hand of Sen. Stevens, passed as part of the appropriations for military construction projects that year. Murkowski also got out front on efforts to pass legislation opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration, an idea popular in Alaska but long opposed by environmental and wilderness groups, which have blocked its passage. Stevens praised the work of his former intern, saying that Murkowski “is a hell of a lot better senator than her dad ever was.” (She returned his loyalty in 2009, when she asked President Bush to pardon Stevens after his conviction for concealing $250,000 in gifts from an oil executive. Bush declined, but the conviction was later thrown out after it was revealed that prosecutors had allegedly withheld evidence from Stevens’s defense lawyers.)
No Alaska Republican senator had ever been defeated for re-election, but Murkowski entered the 2004 campaign in weak condition. She had primary opposition from conservative former legislator Mike Miller, who attacked her stands on abortion, gun rights and taxes. Miller was even supported by her father’s lieutenant governor, Loren Leman. But Murkowski was better financed and had the support of Stevens and Rep.-at-Large Don Young. She won the primary 58%-37%.
Her opponent in the general election was former Gov. Ted Knowles, the most successful Alaska Democrat in recent times. A Vietnam veteran and Yale classmate and friend of George W. Bush, Knowles ran a restaurant in Anchorage and had been twice elected the city’s mayor in the 1980s. In 1994, he had been elected governor in a multi-candidate field with 41% of the vote; in 1998, he won a second term. Knowles strongly supported ANWR drilling and said that, as a Democrat, he would have a better chance of attracting votes for it. National Republicans responded with an ad featuring Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry and saying he “wouldn’t know a caribou if it dropped in for a bowl of Boston clam chowder.” Knowles criticized Murkowski for not supporting more spending for veterans’ health care. In her defense, Stevens said that Murkowski had supported over $1 billion for veterans’ health. Knowles said that, knowing what he did in 2004, he would not have voted for the Iraq war resolution two years earlier; Murkowski said she would have.
Looming over the campaign was the nepotism issue. Knowles’s pollster said that 54% of people found it a convincing reason to vote against Murkowski, and she trailed, usually by narrow margins, in most polls during the campaign. Organizers obtained 50,000 signatures for a ballot measure to ban governors from appointing new senators, which later passed with 56% of the vote. Against this, Republicans raised the issue of party and seniority. Stevens said Alaska would be hurt if Democrats gained a majority that year in the Senate and made the point that Murkowski, at age 47, would have a chance of amassing more seniority than would 61-year-old Knowles.
This was one of the national Democrats’ best chances to pick up a Republican seat in 2004, but this red state ended up giving its GOP junior senator a full term, by 49%-46%. Like her father in the 2002 governor’s race, Murkowski ran behind by a wide margin in the bush and by a lesser margin in the panhandle. In historically Republican Anchorage and Fairbanks, she ran only narrowly ahead. Her winning margins came in south-central Alaska, in the fast-growing arc around Anchorage.
Murkowski has established a moderate voting record, considerably closer to the middle of the road than her father’s. She assumed a much larger role in the Senate on Alaska-centric issues after Stevens lost his bid for re-election in 2008 amid the corruption scandal. By 2009, she had won the respect of many of her colleagues and was moving up the ladder. She secured a seat on the Appropriations Committee, where Stevens had been so successful securing federal largesse for Alaska. Luck broke her way with another big promotion: She rose to become the ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee after three Republicans with more seniority were suddenly off the committee. (Craig Thomas of Wyoming died of leukemia, Larry Craig of Idaho left the Senate after being arrested in a homosexual-sex sting, and Pete Domenici of New Mexico retired.) The move gave Murkowski the top job for the minority party on a committee vital to Alaska’s energy interests.
But her first full term was also marred by an ethics controversy. In late 2006, Murkowski and her husband purchased an acre of waterfront land on Alaska’s Kenai River from developer Bob Penney, a friend of Stevens. An ethics watchdog group charged that the $179,500 the couple paid for the lot was well below the market value of approximately $350,000. Penney told local newspaper reporters that he had sold Murkowski the land, next to property he owned on the river, for the assessed value. However, in early 2007, just weeks after the sale, the assessed value on the lot went up to $215,000. In July 2007, Murkowski called the deal “nothing nefarious or underhanded” but said she had decided to sell the land back to Penney for the purchase price of $179,500
In the Senate, she continued to pursue the Alaska delegation’s longstanding goal of opening up ANWR to drilling, though she had not succeeded as of late spring 2009. She tried a new tack in 2008, promoting a bill that would automatically open the area to drilling if world oil prices topped $125 a barrel for five days, a strategy designed to take advantage of pressure Congress was feeling from soaring consumer prices at the pump.
Murkowski’s independence and centrist positions put her in the center of high-profile national debates. In 2005 she came under pressure from conservatives to support the “nuclear option,” a proposed change in Senate rules that would have blocked Democrats from using a filibuster to block nominations of conservative judges. Murkowski said she supported up-or-down votes on judicial nominations but did not reveal her position on the controversial rules change. And she did not join the “Gang of 14” senators who met to resolve the issue. Suspicious of her abortion stance, the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family called her a “squishy Republican” and ran radio and newspaper ads in the state that said she was likely to support Democratic obstruction of nominees.
When Bush asked Congress to reauthorize the USA PATRIOT Act, Murkowski was one of four Republican senators to insist the anti-terrorism bill include more civil liberties protections. Their decision to join a Democratic filibuster forced the White House to accept a short-term extension in December 2005 and to return the next year to negotiate a longer reauthorization. A pet issue of Murkowski’s is child nutrition. She teamed with Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin in 2007 on an amendment to the farm bill to raise nutritional standards for food and beverages sold in school vending machines and cafeterias.
Murkowski has been aggressive on Alaska issues. In June 2008, she sponsored an amendment to a Senate tax bill that would have eased the tax burden on plaintiffs sharing $2.5 billion in punitive damages in the Exxon Valdez oil-spill case. The more than 32,000 plaintiffs would be allowed to pay their taxes on damage awards over three years rather than in one year. However, the Senate tax bill did not pass. She is also the leading advocate in the Senate for joining the Convention on the Law of the Sea, an international treaty that sets policy for ocean resources, including vast untapped supplies of oil in the Arctic. Some 155 countries, including Russia, have ratified the treaty, but American conservatives have long argued that the United States needs no such document to assert its claims over the Arctic and its natural resources.
Murkowski fought along with Stevens against Pentagon plans to downgrade Eielson Air Force Base during the 2005 base-closure round. They backed a bill that would have halted the base-closing process until the Pentagon met a number of requirements, including the return of most U.S. troops from Iraq. And she criticized the Defense Department when it delayed declassification of information that would have helped the state make its case for keeping the base. The base commission voted 7-0 to keep Eielson open by allowing 18 F-16 fighter jets to remain there, although it approved the transfer of 18 A-10 aircraft. Murkowski also sponsored bills to grant federal recognition and land to five landless native Alaskan communities. Conservationists opposed the recognition out of fear it could lead to logging of environmentally sensitive lands.
And in 2006, not to be out-Alaska’ed by anyone, she bested eight other senators during a Kenai River conservation fundraiser by catching a 63-pound king salmon.