A reverence for committee chairmen: Murkowski is poised to lead

by Jack Ferguson, Community Perspective

Every member of Alaska’s congressional delegation since statehood — Republican and Democrat alike — has delivered the same message: Alaskans must fight for their rights against an overbearing federal government that wants to control their lives. To accomplish this, our delegation has carefully chosen its limited committee assignments in the Congress.

Alaska has always been represented on the House Committee on Natural Resources and the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. These committees have jurisdiction over the Native land claims settlement, federal lands including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, oil and gas development, the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, other energy policies, wilderness designations, wild and scenic rivers designations and minerals management. In other words, they have influence over nearly everything that is important to Alaska’s economy.

So, do we elect a freshman who has shown no interest in serving on this vital committee in the Senate? Keep in mind that Joe Miller has said he would request assignment to the Senate Judiciary Committee, perhaps to oversee his “17th amendment” concerns. His second request would be the Armed Services Committee, on which Alaska is already served by Sen. Mark Begich.

As the top Republican and only Alaskan on the Resources Committee, Sen. Lisa Murkowski wields significant power and would become the committee chairwoman should the Republicans take control of the Senate, a real possibility.

Having Sen. Murkowski rise to the most senior Republican position on the committee after just six years was like a lightning bolt out of the sky. To place this in context, Sen. Ted Stevens followed the more usual path to power and waited 29 years before chairing the Appropriations Committee and 37 years before chairing the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. Rep. Don Young waited 22 years to chair the Natural Resources Committee.

On the Appropriations Committee, where Sen. Murkowski serves, five senior members are leaving, giving her an opportunity to chair the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee. Simply put, Sen. Murkowski is poised to oversee both the committee responsible for writing public lands and natural resources policies for Alaska as well as the subcommittee that controls the purse strings for the agencies that implement those policies.

In case you haven’t guessed, I have a real reverence for chairmen. They set the congressional agenda, control the bills that are within their committees, schedule hearings, decide witness lists, write legislation, manage bills on the floor and chair conference committees. These are enormously influential positions because the real work of Congress is done in committees.

I respect the wide-ranging ideological beliefs of the Alaska electorate. I also know our challenges are so great that Alaska must take a pragmatic approach. No one in the state has the time to watch our economy erode while Joe Miller shows us what he learned in law school about the U.S. Constitution. Nor do we want to take a chance on Scott McAdams’ learning curve and freshman status.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski has earned her status in the Senate through her hard work on the Resources Committee and is in the best position to serve Alaska.

Jack Ferguson is a former chief of staff to Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young. He is presently the president of Jack Ferguson Associates, Inc., a federal lobbying firm. He made presentations in recent weeks to the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce and the Alaska Federation of Natives convention.