At forum, Murkowski and Tshibaka offer different approaches on Biden

Negotiation and cooperation are better, Murkowski says, while Tshibaka proposes confrontation

By: - September 13, 2022 5:58 pm

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka speaks on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022, at a candidate forum in Ketchikan. At left is Democratic candidate Pat Chesbro. Republican incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski attended by teleconference. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

Incumbent Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski and her leading Republican challenger, Kelly Tshibaka, traded heated remarks on Tuesday in Ketchikan over road funding in last year’s federal infrastructure bill.

The exchange highlighted a key difference between the two candidates when dealing with the administration of President Joe Biden. Both candidates say they have been frustrated by federal limits on mining, drilling and logging in Alaska. 

Tshibaka said that if elected, she would use her position to confront and threaten the administration with budget cuts, audits and investigations; as the incumbent, Murkowski has preferred negotiation and — at times — compromise.

“I think that is one big difference between the two of us, quite honestly,” Murkowski said. “I view my ability to work relationships to Alaska’s benefit to be one of my great strengths.”

Murkowski, Tshibaka, Democratic candidate Pat Chesbro and Republican candidate Buzz Kelley are on the Nov. 8 general election ballot. Kelley has suspended his campaign and has said he is supporting Tshibaka. 

Pat Chesbro, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, is seen on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022, at a candidate forum in Ketchikan. At right is Republican candidate Kelly Tshibaka. Republican incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski attended by teleconference. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

Chesbro finished the Aug. 16 primary election with 6.8% of the vote, a distant third behind Tshibaka (38.6%) and Murkowski (45.1%). Speaking to attendees of Southeast Conference, a regional meeting of business and political leaders, her appearance was quiet but brought murmurs from the crowd when she mistakenly said she looked forward to working with “those of you in Southcentral.”

Most attendees’ attention was on Murkowski and Tshibaka, the two perceived frontrunners. 

Murkowski said her ability to work across party lines has brought benefits to the state.

She pointed to the infrastructure bill, which she co-authored with a group of Republicans and Democrats. That bill was also backed by the Biden administration.

Money for the Alaska Marine Highway System, she said, “is there because I single-handedly put it there, whether it was the billion dollars for rural ferry service (or) what we did to permanently expand the authorized use of ferryboat terminal construction funding.”

Murkowski put money into the bill, Tshibaka said, but she asked the crowd to consider whether federal departments’ rules may foil Murkowski’s efforts. Look at road construction, she suggested.

“The Biden administration has decided we will get no new roads from the infrastructure bill. That’s what happens when we make deals with the Biden administration,” she said.

“To suggest that there’s no new roads that will be built under the infrastructure bill is just absolutely, flat out not true,” Murkowski responded.

Tshibaka later said her comment was in reference to 2021 remarks by Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, who said money would be used to address racial inequalities in highway design.

A Tshibaka aide said she also was referring to guidance from the Federal Highway Administration, which emphasizes road repair over construction. 

Neither item says that no new roads will be built using federal infrastructure money.

The point, Tshibaka said, is that congressional efforts can be derailed by agency regulations unless members of Congress act. 

She said that if elected, she would “hold (agencies) accountable through budget cuts and the appropriations committee, and hearings — like before the energy committee. Neither of those have happened yet, and it’s time we do that. I will also leverage my extensive experience in the oversight network of the executive branch to begin auditing some of these agencies’ regulations, and whether they’ve exceeded their statutory authority.”

That approach has been championed by other Republicans in the U.S. Senate, including Alaska’s other U.S. Senator, Dan Sullivan.

Tshibaka has also criticized Murkowski’s votes in support of some Biden appointees and judicial nominees.

“She’s become Biden’s CEO. Yep. She’s his chief enabling officer,” Tshibaka said in July at an event hosted by former President Donald Trump. 

Asked about those votes, some of which took place Tuesday, Murkowski posed a question of her own.

“I could take the approach and some of my colleagues here do, which is to oppose every single nominee out there. You tell me what Josh Hawley is getting for that,” she said, referring to the Republican senator from Missouri.

“The same thing was what some of my Democratic colleagues did during the Trump administration. I think Elizabeth Warren just blackballed every single Trump nominee. How far did that get?” Murkowski said.  

“You know, you can take that approach, and if that’s going to be Tshibaka’s approach, have at it, but you know what? Alaska is gonna lose out. Because until the Biden administration is gone, we’ve got to deal with them,” she said.

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Clarification: This article has been updated to state that Murkowski was a co-author of the infrastructure bill, not just a supporter. The initial version of this article underplayed her role in the bill and has been updated.

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James Brooks
James Brooks

James Brooks is a longtime Alaska reporter, having previously worked at the Anchorage Daily News, Juneau Empire, Kodiak Mirror and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. A graduate of Virginia Tech, he is married to Caitlyn Ellis, owns a house in Juneau and has a small sled dog named Barley. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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