• Senator speaks at chamber
By Carey Restino
Sen. Lisa Murkowski covered a lot of ground last week, not only flying from Washington, D.C. to Alaska to ride in the seat of honor in both Seldovia and Homer’s parades, but also in getting Homer residents up to speed on the happenings in the nation’s capital.
Murkowski spoke at the Homer Chamber of Commerce luncheon last Wednesday, fresh off a trip from Southwest Alaska, where she visited rural fishcamps. In less than an hour, the senator covered everything from her recently announced stance on marriage equality for those of the same sex to immigration and campaign finance reform.
And then she opened it up to questions. The first one? Gun control. “The United States has the worst record of gun violence of all developed nations in the world,” the audience member asked. “Where do you stand on gun control?”
Murkowski responded that while she supported more restrictions to keep weapons out of the hands of the mentally ill, she was reluctant to support some of the measures being proposed in Washington because of the potential impacts in rural Alaska, where guns are essential tools.
“Alaska is a different place than Connecticut,” she said. “You cannot be out in fish camp without a firearm. It’s a tool for how you provide for your family. How do you ensure they can be purchased freely without hardship.”
Murkowski said that under proposed gun regulation reform, residents in rural Alaska communities would have to fly into larger hub communities to purchase their guns.
Not that Murkowski shied away from the difficult topics during her presentation. Alaska’s first female senator recently came out in favor of same-sex marriage, the third republican senator to do so. She said while religious groups should be allowed to define marriage as they see it within their religion, she supported the right of all Americans to marry the person they choose.
“In this country we should be free to choose,” she said to applause. “I think it’s important.”
Murkowski told the crowd about her indignation at having the federal government keep phone records from regular Americans in the name of fighting terrorism. Murkowski, along with 25 other senators, recently sent a letter to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper asking him to provide information about what intelligence was being collected from everyday people.
“In an effort to monitor the bad guys, reasonable people’s personal liberties are being infringed on,” Murkowski said.
Murkowski told those gathered that two weeks ago, Clapper stood before congress and said the agency is not collecting any of the data people were concerned about. Last week, he had to apologize, saying he misspoke.
Many in congress have expressed concern that the Patriot act is being misinterpreted in such a way that it is giving intelligence officials the freedom to collect data such as phone records.
Campaign finance reform was another hot topic Murkowski has chosen in recent months not to shy away from, proposing a reform bill that would require any and all groups spending at least $10,000 on electoral activity to register and disclose contributions above $1,000.
The problem, Murkowski said, are tax-exempt organizations that support candidates indirectly, thus dodging the requirements in place for direct candidate support.
“It’s not the most popular bill in Washington, D.C.,” Murkowski said. “But I think it’s the right thing to be doing.”
Former Mayor Jim Hornaday asked Murkowski to explain her take on ObamaCare, noting that he, like many in the state and the nation, are confused as to what it will really mean.
“Are you optimistic that this thing is going to work or are you pessimistic that it’s not going to work,” Hornaday asked.
Murkowski said she has never been optimistic about whether or not ObamaCare was going to help make a difference, despite the fact that she opposed its repeal back in 2010 during her re-campaign against Joe Miller. Murkowski said her criteria for the medical coverage’s success was that it increase access and decrease cost. Currently, she said, the costs continue to go up and some estimates for the barebones coverage plan are that it would cost between $450 and $540 per month.
But while that coverage may open the door for some, it will limit it for others, Murkowski said, as businesses grapple with the high cost of trying to provide mandated coverage for their employees.
“There are Alaskans who will lose health care insurance because of that,” Murkowski said.
The exchanges are due to be set up Oct. 1 and national exchanges are not yet set up, so there is a lot of confusion as to what the program will in fact look like. It was recently announced that the employer requirement of the plan will be put on hold for a year, Murkowski said, because small businesses are concerned and confused.
“I’ve been hearing from small businesses from Day one who when they saw that law said, ‘Hold the phone, this is going to kill me,’” she said. “The fact of the matter is this is going to be a considerable economic hit to most of our businesses here in the state.”
Murkowski said a lack of clarity as deadlines loom for implementation of various parts of the plan.
The issue of the recently renewed proposal for a catch sharing plan to divide the halibut quota between the halibut charter fleet and the commercial halibut fleet was brought up. Murkowski, as well as Sen. Mark Begich, called for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to extend its public comment period on the proposed plan an extra 45 days due to the summer fishing season.
Murkowski also helped present a plaque of weighty significance to Dave Brann and the many instigators of the Kachemak Bay Water Trail on behalf of the Department of the Interior that acknowledges the trail as part of America’s Great Outdoor Initiative.
The initiative designated two projects in Alaska for the award, noting that the Kachemak Bay Water Trail emphasizes stewardship of the resources while providing Alaska youth and adults with a “fun way to learn about the Bay, beaches, estuaries, and uplands and their importance to the marine ecosystem.”
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