By Mark Sabbatini
Juneau Empire 

U.S. Senate candidates shows their differences on issues


September 21, 2022 | View PDF

The three candidates for U.S. Senate in November’s general election shared familiar political stances on Southeast Alaska issues during an hour-long forum at the Southeast Conference in Ketchikan on Sept. 13.

Incumbent U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, emphasized accomplishments such as securing billions in federal infrastructure funds largely designated for ferries; Republican challenger Kelly Tshibaka attacked President Joe Biden in nearly every answer and called less federal intrusion the path to regional growth; and Democratic challenger Pat Chesbro focused on education and workplace development as keys to boosting the area’s future viability.

Questions from some of the estimated 300 attendees at the conference focused on future federal funding for the Alaska Marine Highway System, fisheries, vocational education, affordable power for small communities, housing and land access, tribal relations and mariculture.

The one-minute candidates were allocated for answers didn’t allow for nuanced details, but all three managed to convey distinct areas of emphasis even when they agreed on general goals.

Their preferred areas of focus were illustrated when asked about their approach to boosting the region’s mariculture.

Murkowski said the industry “is a happening place to be and it’s something I have long put muscle behind” with efforts including advocating for federal grant funds.

Tshibaka criticized Biden for environmental actions such as seeking to reimpose the roadless rule in the Tongass National Forest and said she wants to “address strangulation by regulation.”

Chesbro, noting the local oysters and shrimp served at one of the conference’s events, said she wants to focus on “renewable things that will help with food security that is also an issue. We have so much potential and also potential for our universities to do the research.”

Ferry and regional transportation issues were among the most contentious of the forum, due largely to Tshibaka accusing Murkowski multiple times of working to advance Biden’s interests rather than Alaska’s, and Murkowski near the end of the forum finally responding directly by stating her challenger’s comments were neither factually nor politically true.

Murkowski took credit for securing $1 billion for “essential ferry service” in rural areas as part of the bipartisan federal infrastructure bill. She said the infrastructure bill also includes significant amounts for other state transportation projects including roads and bridges in Southeast.

Tshibaka said “the Biden administration has decided we will get no new roads from the infrastructure bill,” which Murkowski called “absolutely not true,” and accused the incumbent of voting to confirm administration officials who presided over actions such as “keeping millions of acres of land locked up.”

Chesbro, thanking Murkowski for her efforts to secure ferry funding, said a thriving marine highway system needs a successful partnership with the state. The Democrat also returned to her consistent theme of education, noting growth in transportation and related industries is dependent on a skilled local workforce.

“We need to develop renewables by the site, what’s available there,” she said, referring specifically to power generation in regional communities. “We also need engineers and others to help develop that.”

Chesbro’s advocacy for boosting vocational training was shared by Tshibaka, with some differences in approach. The Republican challenger said she favors federal assistance for technical colleges and block grants for education “where the dollar follows the child rather than the system,” so a student could get credit for fishing or a mining internship.

All three candidates tried in their closing remarks to claim personal ties to conference attendees. Murkowski noted she was born in Ketchikan, grew up in Wrangell and Juneau, and “I’m not going to insult you folks by relying on partisan talking points … (with) no basis in reality.”

Tshibaka said the region “can inspire with our tourism,” but “we have to have leadership that won’t be bullied or controlled by D.C. insiders.”

Chesbro, acknowledging she’s an outsider from Fairbanks, said Southeast issues too often get overlooked by state officials living outside the region. “I appreciate that you’ve challenged my brain today to learn a lot more,” she said.


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