Does Biden Need Murkowski More-- Or Does Murkowski Need Biden More?

Updated: Mar 25, 2021

A decade has passed since this photo was snapped, but...

Apparently, Trump's top Senate priority for 2022 is to defeat independent-minded Republican Lisa Murkowski, a conservative, who voted to convict him after his second impeachment trial. And, once again, the Alaska Republican Party, will run another Republican against her, presumably Sarah Palin. As she proved in 2010, she can win in Alaska without the state party. She lost the primary to fascist crackpot Joe Miller and then beat him in the general election-- as a write in candidate! Miller was supported by Palin. The state's Native population, as well as teachers' and firefighters unions backed her. The result must have been extremely gratifying:

  • Lisa Murkowski- 101,091 (39.49%)

  • Joe Miller (R)- 90,839 (35.49%)

  • Scott McAdams- 60,045 (23.46%)

Originally, Miller had bested her in the primary 55,878 (50.91%) to 53,872 (49.09). After the general he refused to concede-- the Republican way-- and whined to court after court, until the Alaska Supreme Court and then a federal judge told him he had no basis for his lawsuits and dismissed his case.

In 2016, she refused to endorse Trump and the Libertarian candidate-- the same crazy Joe Miller-- ran as a Trumpist. Miller got his same 90,825 fascist-oriented voters to back him but in a 6-person race, Murkowski came out ahead with 138,149 votes (44.36%). This morning the New Republic published an essay by Nick Martin about how Biden needs her and how she needs the Native Americans again, which is a group Biden can help her with. She was a key vote towards confirming Deb Haaland, a Native American, as Interior Secretary, and then she somehow-- with no fight and no explanation-- persuaded Biden to nix far more progressive Elizabeth Klein as Deputy Secretary.

"Typically," wrote Martin, "any dissonance found in these kinds of decisions can be attributed to the Beltway’s standard brand of horse-trading politics. For instance, it would be fair to... wonder if the Klein rejection was part of a preordained deal between Murkowski and the White House, wherein she would approve Haaland’s nomination in exchange for being able to publicly block another Interior-related progressive pick. But Murkowski’s approval of Haaland and rejection of Klein also speaks to a broader issue the Biden administration has encountered in its initial months. As the administration has staked out its goals on tribal consultation, climate policy, economic stability, and energy production, it’s already apparent that Alaska’s versions of these debates rarely fit into neat partisan boxes. In the case of the Klein and Haaland nominations, the Biden administration is clearly seeking to please one of the few Republican allies it has in the Senate. Until the Democratic Party reclaimed a majority following the Georgia runoff races, Murkowski chaired the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, a position now held by Senator Joe Manchin. When Haaland came before the committee, Republican members like John Barrasso [unfairly] criticized her as being too 'radical' to lead the Interior-- a humorous claim given that David Bernhardt and Ryan Zinke, the two interior secretaries appointed by the Trump administration, gutted the department while orchestrating one of the largest fire sales of public lands in modern history. But ultimately, Haaland narrowly advanced out of the committee vote, thanks in large part to Murkowski’s decision (following well-publicized hemming and hawing) to cross the aisle. Haaland then sailed through the full-chamber vote. Murkowski’s vote for Haaland could have been a leverage play to secure sway over future legislation. But it was also a recognition of and response to Murkowski’s dependency on the Alaska Native vote... Murkowski has been one of the staunchest champions for both Alaska Native and broader Indian Country issues in the Senate... However, the same political issue that loomed over both Politico’s report and Haaland’s hearings-- the continued use of Alaskan lands for fossil fuel production-- will only get thornier from here."

One of President Joe Biden’s early decisions was to place a temporary pause on gas and oil drilling leases on public lands. The decision, levied by way of executive order, was loudly decried by the gas and oil industry and conservative public officials as being harmful to local economies. That executive order was the single-most discussed topic throughout Haaland’s confirmation process, aside from the historic nature of her nomination-- Murkowski specifically mentioned the order during her allotted committee time to question Haaland.
It should come as little surprise that extractive operations remain an active part of most any national discussion of Alaska politics given their outsize presence in the state. (Alaska trails only Texas and Pennsylvania, in terms of annual natural gas withdrawals.) And in these debates, it’s impossible to avoid the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR, issue. Found in the northeastern part of the state, the refuge, which Trump opened for drilling during his final weeks in office, spans over 19 million acres and crosses the United States-Canada border...
Protecting the ANWR has been a priority for Biden from day one. Hours after his inauguration, and days before his public lands drilling pause, Biden signed an executive order placing a moratorium on extraction efforts in the ANWR.
What’s often overlooked in ANWR coverage is that the land is also home to the Kaktovik Village, one of Alaska’s 231 federally recognized tribes. Unlike the reservation system operated by the tribal nations of the Lower 48, Alaska Native villages exercise their legal sovereignty through entities that are known as Alaska Native Corporations, or ANCs. (You can read more about the history and modern impacts of ANCs here.) And in the five decades since their creation, ANCs have, broadly speaking, centered their economic development around the extraction and production of fossil fuels.
The case of the Kaktovik Village may prove to be one of the Biden administration’s defining challenges. Another of Biden’s executive orders in his first week instructed federal agencies to adequately update and follow the federal guidelines concerning tribal consultation-- a process in which a tribal nation is formally informed of any future projects on its lands. Speaking with KTOO three weeks ago, Kaktovik Village president Eddie Rexford Sr. said that the village was not consulted prior to Biden’s executive order regarding the ANWR. (The village’s ANC, the Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation, was informed by the Interior in February that it had missed a deadline to survey a proposed drilling area for polar bear dens; the corporation responded by claiming the National Fish and Wildlife Service failed to process and respond throughout the process.)
“We certainly like to protect our homelands also, but we want to utilize the natural resources that our creator provided to us,” Rexford told KTOO. “Oil and gas, so we can use the natural gas to get away from using diesel.”
This is only a fraction of the Alaskan puzzle the Biden administration will have to solve in the coming months and years. To pass many of its desired legislative goals through the Senate, the White House will have to please Murkowski. And pleasing Murkowski will often also mean pleasing Alaska Native voters. As displayed by the Kaktovik matter, that will involve more nuanced work than American administrations are used to doing in Indian Country. For now, at least, the administration has Haaland atop the Interior and the Republican senator on its side. That’s a start.

There is no Democratic candidate running against Murkowski yet and, with Don Young retiring, viable Democrats are looking at the open at-large House seat instead. There are 4 Republicans in the mix now: Palin, Fox News host Laura Ingraham, current governor, Mike Dunleavy, who was extremely unpopular last year but is perceived to have done a good job on the pandemic and is now a viable candidate (likely to run for reelection as governor) and famous local neo-fascist Kelly Tshibaka, who has some kind of a hard to understand job in the Dunleavy administration.

I turned to Democratic strategist and former Al Gross campaign manager, David Keith who told me that "Murkowski allies put Prop 2-- ranked choice voting and a lot of other cryptic election reform-- on the ballot in 2020 and won narrowly by massively outspending the other side. They did so as a sure fire way to reelect Murkowski. However, these 'moderate Republican' types may have actually jeopardized the hopes of a GOP majority because Lisa is so unpopular that a Democrat may out rank her in the top 4 runoff. In this scenario, much of her vote will go to the Democrat, giving that candidate a damn good chance of winning the U.S. Senate seat as the other candidates in the top 4 are likely to be far right wing extremists who won’t be able to garner a final majority. Now it’s time to find a stellar Democratic candidate!" It is also a time for Biden to not ally himself too closely to Murkowski... unless she gives him something really worth it... not a nomination confirmation vote but something like... well, how about a vote to overturn the filibuster or at least to back voter protection legislation that McConnell-- her ally against Trump's interference in the 2022 election-- has vowed to stop?