Alaska Federation of Natives backs Murkowski

by Jeff Richardson /
10.21.10 – 05:48 pm
Updated at 10:30 p.m.

FAIRBANKS — The Alaska Federation of Natives rank-and-file membership endorsed Lisa Murkowski on Thursday, following a long speech by the GOP senator touting her support for rural and Native issues.

AFN delegates packed the floor of the Carlson Center during Murkowski’s speech, then stood and gave a rousing “aye” when asked if they supported a motion to endorse her write-in bid for U.S. Senate. Only a few voiced a quiet objection when asked if anyone wanted to reject the motion.

The vote was an affirmation of a move by the 37-member AFN Board of Directors, which unanimously decided in September to endorse Murkowski.

Murkowski said she was “humbled” by the response from a supportive audience. She’s running a write-in campaign against Republican nominee Joe Miller, Democrat Scott McAdams and Libertarian David Haase.

“My knees are just weak with what just happened in there,” she said following the voice vote.

Murkowski said it was a stark difference from her first senate race in 2004, when the AFN board declined to make an endorsement between Murkowski and her opponent, Tony Knowles. Many who attended the convention brought Knowles masks, and Murkowski said she looked out into a sea of Tony Knowleses when she got up to give her speech.

“It was like ‘Wow, this is really disconcerting,’” Murkowski said.

This time Murkowski came with a speech that trumpeted a list of pro-Native accomplishments. She strongly defended the 8(a) program, which gives a preference in many federal contracts to Alaska Native corporations, and said she opposed a move to eliminate the rural subsistence preference for Native lands.

“Alaska’s Native peoples are still fighting for the respect they deserve as the first inhabitants of this great land,” she said.

Murkowski also highlighted several instances when she opposed Republican party leadership attempts to pass legislation she said would harm Alaska Natives. Unlike many of her GOP peers, Murkowski told the audience that she rejected “English only” legislation that would curtail the use of indigenous languages, and has supported efforts to strengthen federal hate crime laws.

Murkowski also said she helped pass legislation this year that will allow continued federal funding of tribal courts. She criticized state officials for lawsuits that have been filed — and lost — attempting to limit the power of tribal court decisions.

“We must do all we can to end this adversarial relationship between the state of Alaska and its tribes,” she said.

Murkowski didn’t mention her election opponents, and said afterward that she worked to keep her statement limited to her accomplishments as a senator. But an introduction by former AFN President Byron Mallott referred angrily to Miller, who has criticized Alaska Native corporations for a lack of transparency and an inability to deliver wealth to the average village resident.

“I will have nothing to do with him,” said Mallott, who is the co-chairman of Murkowski’s write-in campaign, drawing applause.

He blasted Miller, who didn’t attend the convention on Thursday, for referring to Native corporations as special interests.

“Maybe you can call that a special interest, but I call it an Alaskan interest,” Mallott said.

Contact staff writer Jeff Richardson at 459-7518.
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