Sen. Lisa Murkowski says she won't insert herself into the Republican primary race for Alaska's other U.S. Senate seat, but she wants whoever wins to oust her colleague, Democratic incumbent Mark Begich.
She told reporters in Anchorage on Monday that Begich was working on issues that matter to Alaska but overall it would be better for Republicans to win control of the Senate. For one, she'd become chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. She's now the ranking Republican.
Asked how Begich was doing, she said, "As an Alaska delegation, we've got to be working on those issues that are important to our constituents. Sen. Begich has been keying in on the issues that I think Alaskans are worried about and doing what he was tasked to do."
U.S. Rep. Don Young last week said Begich was in a tough race in a conservative state, but also said the Democrat was doing "a good job" in the Senate.
Murkowski said she won't make an endorsement in the Republican primary, following the guidance of her father, former Gov. Frank Murkowski.
Three prominent Republicans are battling for the chance to take on Begich in November: former natural resources commissioner Dan Sullivan, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and Joe Miller, a tea party pick who won the GOP nomination in 2010 over Murkowski only to see her come back with a successful write-in campaign.
Murkowski said she told the GOP candidates -- Sullivan and Treadwell but not Miller, her staff later explained -- the story of when she first ran for state House in a contested primary back in 1998. Her dad, then a U.S. senator, told her "great. Don't expect me to endorse you."
That "kind of surprised me," Murkowski told reporters. He told her "I've always had a policy that I will not endorse in a contested primary." It didn't make a difference having a daughter in the race, he told her. (He later appointed her as his replacement in the Senate.)
"That was good advice and I have followed it ever since," Murkowski said.
For the November general election, Murkowski initially said her role would depend on the Republican nominee.
"If Joe Miller wins, I'm not probably going to be working too hard," Murkowski said.
She then clarified that she backs the Republican push to take over the Senate, now controlled by Democrats, and said "I'm going to be working to get Republicans elected."
Some of the procedural changes made by Democrats "are destroying the institution of the Senate," Murkowski asserted.
She mentioned two areas in particular that illustrate the dysfunction in Congress: resistance to legislative amendments proposed by Republicans, and the elimination of filibusters for most presidential nominations.
Since July, only four amendments by Republicans have been allowed on the Senate floor, she said. The U.S. House, controlled by the GOP, allowed votes on 71 amendments by Democrats, she said.
"From a selfish perspective, if we take the majority, I would be the chair of the Energy Committee and quite honestly I'd like to hold the gavel of the Energy Committee," Murkowski said. "I think it would be important for this country in terms of good, strong energy policy."
Begich, reached by phone later in the day, said he understand Murkowski's motivation but "people should focus on what's good for Alaska and not what's good for their party."
He said he works with Murkowski and Young on many issues. Lately, he and Murkowski have pushed for the creation of a new State Department post, an ambassador to the Arctic.
Reach Lisa Demer at email@example.com or 257-4390.
By LISA DEMER
Alaska Dispatch Publishing