Monday, August 28, 2006

Alaska Senator Ted Stevens Attributes Frank Murkowski's Defeat To "Indecisiveness"

During a press conference at the Egan Center on Monday afternoon (April 28th, 2006), U.S. Senator Ted Stevens (pictured at left, courtesy of KTUU), while addressing a multitude of issues, attributed Governor Frank Murkowski's defeat in the Republican primary election held on April 22nd to "indecisiveness". This is a composite post, combining relevant elements of original stories from KTUU Channel 2, KTVA Channel 11, and KIMO Channel 13, all of Anchorage.

Alaska's senior senator says the main factor in the race was that Murkowski waited too long to make a decision on whether to seek re-election. “It's one position that I think the public will not accept, is that you decided you’re not going to be a public servant and then come back and say, ‘Yes, I can be a public servant.’ That is the number one defect in the approach that the governor followed. I've known several senators who did that -- change their minds right down to the last filing deadline and did file after they said they weren't going to file -- and they have not been re-elected,” Stevens said.

Stevens says he was not surprised by Sarah Palin's victory last Tuesday, since he was following the polls, most of which indicated that Palin would win by a significant margin. He expressed his intention to support Palin during the gneral election campaign.

However, Stevens says he won't get involved with the rift between Palin and Alaska GOP party chairman Randy Ruedrich. “I get along with the party, I work with the party, but I’ve stayed out of party affairs,” Stevens said. “I've not been one to nominate somebody to be chairman or vice chairman or anything like that because I didn't want to get the mantle of being a king-maker so that I have to do that every time. I've not done that.”

Senator Stevens was in town to address the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce at their "Make It Monday" forum. The Senator stressed the importance of developing Alaskan energy resources to help ease the energy crisis facing the country. He urged legislators to come together to pass a gas pipeline deal that will bring jobs and cash to the state.

The Senator also discussed the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) at length. He's convinced the recent problems at Prudhoe Bay won't hinder efforts to open ANWR. Stevens says overall the Prudhoe Bay shutdown wasn't that big of a problem, and he thinks Americans will be surprised by the speed of pipeline replacement on the North Slope.

Consequnetly, he remains convinced that Congress will pass ANWR legislation in the next year. “This has been really a hard blow for the industry that's involved, and I know they're very much concerned about their reputation. As far as changing votes, I don't think it will happen,” Stevens said. Stevens also thinks the quick recovery effort will only benefit ANWR legislation... “There will be enough publicity I think -- the fact that the project, the restoration project's completed -- to help us. I do believe as I said, move forward with ANWR in the next year,” he said.

The Senator also commented on his time this weekend with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who flew to Alaska specifically to praise the work of the Fort Wainwright-based 172nd Stryker Brigade and to address the concerns of their family members left behind. The brigade's one-year tour in Iraq was extended just as they prepared to return home. Senator Stevens commended the decision by Secretary Rumsfeld and the Army, citing statistics showing a reduction in deaths in Baghdad since the brigade's arrival there.

Analysis: Senator Stevens hit the nail on the head regarding "indecisiveness". The mainstream media hasn't explored this angle. I was concerned about the effect of Murkowski's late entry on his campaign. Instead of formally entering the race in January while Sarah Palin was still building up a head of steam and while he still had a chance to co-opt John Binkley and maybe persuade him to exit the race, he waited until May, when Binkley was locked in and Palin had already built up unstoppable momentum.

However, columnist Beth Bragg cited her own reasons for Murkowski's defeat. In her column in Friday's Anchorage Daily News, entitled "Unwilling to forgive his sins, voters give Murkowski a spanking", she called it a "Spank Frank" campaign. According to Bragg, the "Spank Frank" sentiment has been around almost as long as Murkowski has been governor, beginning with the day he bequeathed the U.S. Senate seat he filled for 22 years to his daughter Lisa. But what followed was the laundry list we all know by heart -- the secret negotiations with oil companies; the shortsighted elimination of the longevity bonus for Alaska seniors; the stubborn pursuit of a jet that in recent weeks took Murkowski to all corners of the state for campaign appearances disguised as bill signings; and finally, the refusal to rebuke inexcusable behavior by former Attorney General Gregg Renkes and GOP boss Randy Ruedrich. The common denominator here seems to be "arrogance" - not so much personal arrogance, but a sense of corporate arrogance often found amongst the rich, powerful, and prominent.

And where did this "arrogance" come from? Perhaps his 22 years in Washington. He spent so much time dealing with fellow Senators and high-profile heavy hitters that he forgot how to communicate with ordinary Alaskans at the grass-roots level. His controversial decisions may have been more digestible and understandable had he communicated more concisely and clearly. Perhaps he felt he was so famous and was so self-directed he didn't believe he needed to "sell" his decisions.

I personally voted for Sarah Palin because of her emphasis on integrity and ethics, her successful management of Alaska's fastest growing city, and the fact that several polls showed she has the best chance of defeating Tony Knowles in November. Stopping Tony Knowles is now JOB ONE.

However, Frank Murkowski deserved a more dignified sendoff. Notwithstanding his communication flaws, I believe Murkowski genuinely wanted to do what was right for the state, but simply didn't know how to sell his vision to Alaskans. If we get a natural gas pipeline, we will owe Frank Murkowski a debt of gratitude for at least laying the foundation and erecting the framing.

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