June 14, 2012 | Volume 42, No.24

Federal problems overshadow visit

Federal issues overshadowed local ones during a daylong visit by U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, on June 1.

“The reality of what’s happening today in Washington is, it’s really as bad as you’re seeing. It’s probably even worse,” Murkowski told the Haines Chamber of Commerce.

Issues include a $15 trillion debt, links between the U.S. economy and financial instability in Europe, and the inability of the major parties to agree on even basic matters, she said.

“We haven’t passed a budget in Congress for more than three years.” Instead, funding has occurred through “continuing resolutions,” she said.

“We’re still spending money, but not within our own parameters. We’re not governing right now, and this is more than a little problem,” Murkowski said.

With China holding most U.S. debt, and Western nations linked together, the world is a little more complicated and a lot less secure, she said. Debt impacts the strength of the economy and the nation, she said. “You can’t just keep putting money on the credit card and think the day is not coming when you have to pay up.”

Murkowski, who was re-elected as a write-in candidate without the endorsement of the Republican Party, said that detachment has allowed her to see the political world without a party filter.

“My base is Alaska, not necessarily Republican… that’s the message I have carried,” she said.

“With the divisions in this country, there are not enough Congressmen who have the freedom to break party ties and get out in the middle of the road, where I think most of the people in this country are,” Murkowski said. “The parties have gone so far to the extremes that most voters don’t feel like they have a home anymore.”

In an interview, Murkowski said she gave up trying to follow redistricting in Alaska. She said she favored independent districting boards instead of ones aligned to political parties. “We have to work assiduously to figure out how to reduce the politics in government.”

Moderates in Washington, D.C., like U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Indiana, and U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, have resigned or have been ousted by voters, she said. “For those of us who are viewed as moderate and willing to work to find a compromise, it’s getting lonelier out there.”

Asked whether “there’s hope” for Congress, Murkowski said she wouldn’t get up in the morning if there weren’t, but the “situation is at a precarious point” where elected representatives are afraid of taking difficult votes due to political consequences.

“We are at a point where our options aren’t very pretty, where we’ll all have to link arms, jump off and do it.”

Murkowski also gave her views on the U.S. Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision that relaxed federal laws governing campaign contributions.

“What we’re seeing as an outcome of Citizens United is literally a tsunami of money directed to (super political action committees). There is no limit and no disclosure requirement, allowing a person to influence an election in a way that not any one of us would think is reasonable or right,” Murkowski said.

One couple, she said, gave a super PAC $19 million to help elect Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney. “I think that’s wrong and I don’t think it’s what the court intended… When you can write a check for an unlimited amount with no reporting requirements, I think that goes against a good, fair, transparent democracy.”

Murkowski acknowledged that her own, write-in candidacy benefitted from the change in law. “There’s way, way, way too much money in campaigns right now.” She cited luncheons for candidates that raise $3 million. “This is not helping our communities. We have built a monster.”

Resident John Norton sat in on a “community roundtable” with Murkowski at the public library. He said her willingness to seek consensus on issues was a real plus to him. “How many people go to the library and get to hear their U.S. senator? For me, it was a worthwhile couple of hours.”