Though we're now far from Alaska, the turmoil that gripped the Senate and, in turn, the country, over Justice Brett Kavanaugh, had the odd effect of drawing us back home. With friends knowing that we had lived in Alaska and had worked for Sen. Lisa Murkowski, nearly every conversation started with, "what do you think Lisa will do?"
Even with the unusual vantage point of working so closely with Sen. Murkowski, as her communications director and press secretary on Capitol Hill and through two elections, we weren't certain of the outcome of her vote. With facts and impressions changing hour by hour, who could have been certain? But because of that time spent with the senator, we trusted that for her, it would be the right thing.
We've never worked with anyone more dedicated to soul-searching over their decisions. Her purposeful deliberation is a trait that can be frustrating for her staff when votes appear to be clear-cut. It's frustrating for the media and commentators who try to put her in a box. And, no doubt, she is frustrating to her voters from time to time as she takes positions they don't always agree with. In this age of tribal politics, unpredictability is a rare gift.
Sen. Murkowski refuses to be labeled by anything other than someone who will study the facts, make the case and then take a position. That's a notion we all need to respect, because it defies today's politics in many ways. It is the spirit and the perspective that Alaskans, and all of us, deserve from their representatives and it shouldn't be taken for granted.
Perhaps the most telling perspective of Sen. Murkowski can be seen in comparison to the way others behave. Consider the position she found herself in after her first two elections. In 2004, she came back to Washington, D.C., as an underdog victor with a semi-unicorn status – a western state, Republican, female senator, in a media-hungry city that loves rarity. Six years later, she cemented her potential political celebrity as the unheard-of winner of a general election write-in campaign. Her ability to leverage these positions was enormous. Most other senators wouldn't be able to return the television booking calls fast enough, yet notoriety and fame has never been Sen. Murkowski's motivation.
If she doesn't see something as advancing the interests of her constituents, of her state, or of her country, she's not interested. More than once, as Alaskans have come to know, that means she will take positions that cross party lines. That's a good thing. Even when we don't agree with it, we should appreciate the courage that requires. And now, with her Kavanaugh vote, she has once again put herself in the position where celebrity-minded Twitter politicos can easily attempt attacks.
If anyone thinks that this is the easier position, consider being on the other end of those tweets. Consider how easy it is to go along to get along.
We've been thinking of our years working in the Senate a lot lately. With each passing of one of the Senate lions — those like Ted Stevens, like John McCain —we say it's the end of an era. Maybe. But, at the same time, there are glimmers of what a new era could look like.
If more leaders would take the step of hard analysis and conscientious voting, our future would be brighter. If we take a step back from impugning the motives of those who we elect to serve, we'd inspire a whole new generation of public servants. And if we don't take for granted the few, like Lisa, who don't take the easy way in or out, we may all get the Senate we deserve.
Kristin and Elliott Bundy worked in the U.S. Senate for Sens. Ted Stevens and Lisa Murkowski from 2001-2006 in multiple capacities. Kristin also worked on Sen. Murkowski's write-in campaign in 2010. They now reside in New Canaan, Connecticut.
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