OPINION: Biden is more pro-Alaska than most people think

In a recent interview with the Anchorage Daily News, Sen. Lisa Murkowski was asked about how she might vote on the question of Joe Biden versus Donald Trump. She responded, “I don’t know. Maybe I don’t vote for either one. I don’t like the policies of one and I don’t like the character of the other.”

I understand the awkward, difficult situation Sen. Murkowski is in when she — a lifelong, dedicated Republican — would deflect to “maybe I won’t vote for either” when questioned about her voting preference. But I beg to differ about her conclusion on policy alignment. When it comes to Alaska issues that are greater than oil leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, there appears to be more policy alignment than difference.

While a proposed rule affecting the National Petroleum Reserve is noted as a policy difference, the major policy difference highlighted in this ADN story is President Biden’s position on oil leasing in ANWR. No surprise here, as many Alaskans know, opening up ANWR to oil and gas development has been the political litmus test for decades. Somehow, monumental issues like the Pebble mine get regulated as secondary or not important in determining whether a politician is pro-Alaska or not. But let’s suppose the policy litmus test is broader and includes things like fisheries, Native rights, tourism, infrastructure and even oil and gas elsewhere. Then how does the policy equation for being pro-Alaska look? And what if they line up with Sen. Murkowski’s own policy statements?

Let’s start with the Pebble mine. This is from her press statement commending EPA’s final determination on the Pebble mine: “As Sen. Stevens once said, it is the ‘wrong mine in the wrong place,’ and does not deserve to move forward — for good reason.” For more possible alignment, what about President Biden’s approval of the Willow project? Approving these oil and gas leases were certainly championed by Sen. Murkowski.

President Biden even signed legislation sponsored by Alaska’s congressional delegation. In May of 2021, President Biden signed the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act, which provided a necessary step for getting some cruise ships to return to Alaska in the summer of 2021. Signing Sen. Murkowski’s own legislation clearly suggests policy alignment on tourism. Staying with supporting tourism, President Biden also renewed the Tongass “Roadless Rule,” an Executive Order supported by 60% of Southeast residents and 57% of Alaskans statewide. So even if Sen. Murkowski disagrees with this policy action, the polls show that this is still a pro-Alaska action.

On the matter of Native rights, Sen. Murkowski is rightfully known as an ardent champion for Alaska Natives. As such, I would assume she doesn’t object to the Biden administration defending the rural subsistence priority for the Kuskokwim River, an issue significant enough for the Alaska Federation of Natives to intervene on the side of the Biden administration.

When it comes to fisheries, it’s worth noting that in December 2023, Biden signed an executive order to ban imports of Russian seafood processed in China. In a news conference in Anchorage, Sen. Murkowski praised this executive action, saying, “I think that this is going to be very, very welcomed news for the seafood industry at a time when they really need it.”


Next, let’s examine Infrastructure, one of President Biden’s biggest accomplishments. This is from the senator’s official webpage, under the issue tab “Infrastructure” — “This bipartisan infrastructure package is one of the most consequential legislative efforts I’ve ever worked on. I’m proud to have played a leading role in its creation, and have many of you to thank for helping to pinpoint ways to address Alaska’s unique and pressing infrastructure needs.”

Reading this leaves me asking: How does an inconsequential policy disagreement on ANWR outrank something Sen. Murkowski is so very proud of? I say “inconsequential” because we must remember that no major oil company placed a bid. Then the sole oil outfit to bid, an Australian company, withdrew, leaving AIDEA, an organization with no production experience, as the sole leaseholder. Not a raging success. Not worth being the primary measuring stick.

If one stacks up these major policy issues for Alaska — Pebble, Willow and infrastructure — and then examines the Biden administration’s record on tourism legislation, fisheries executive orders and subsistence defense, could it be that President Biden is more pro-Alaska than Donald Trump?

While this seems a reasonable conclusion based on the actions and statements noted above, I don’t expect Sen. Murkowski to acknowledge this. I get her dicey situation in these most politically divisive times, particularly with a Trump-controlled Republican Party. In these hyper-partisan times, we especially need her reasonable voice. She’s right when she says, “We’ve lost the better part of who are.”

Kate Troll, a longtime Alaskan, has more than 22 years of experience in coastal management, fisheries and energy policy and is a former executive director for United Fishermen of Alaska and the Alaska Conservation Voters. She’s been elected to local office twice, written two books and resides in Douglas.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

Kate Troll

Kate Troll, a longtime Alaskan, has over 22 years experience in coastal management, fisheries and energy policy and is a former executive director for United Fishermen of Alaska and the Alaska Conservation Voters. She's been elected to local office twice, written two books and resides in Douglas.