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Sunday, October 17, 2010

How Many Votes Will Lisa Murkowski Get in Kivalina

 >NOTE: This article originally appeared in the October 15, 2010 edition of Mudflats Blog

By Elstun Lauesen

William Takak from Shaktoolik understands the impact of climate change. The Alaska Native Science Commission quotes him in a survey of the impact of climate change[1]. “Last Spring we only got six walrus because of the weather and the ice moving out to quick. A long time ago it used to be real nice for weeks and even sometimes for months. Now we have a day or two of good weather and this impacts our hunting. The hunters talk about the ice getting a lot thinner. It is going out too quick.”

Hannah Miller of Nome: “The seasons are getting very fast and are all mixed up. The last few years my grandmother was living she said that there was not enough time to put things away like there used to be. When we are done with the willow leaves then comes the sourdocks. These seasons are in too much of hurry now.”

In 2006, the Alaska Legislature established The Alaska Climate Impact Assessment Commission. In March 2008, the Commission delivered its report[2]. Among other findings, the Commission notes:

“In Kotzebue, the Commission recorded insights into coastal erosion in the region, relocation issues at Kivalina and Shishmaref…”

The report talks about the challenges of community relocation while techniques such as the use of armor rock are evaluated, citing “…As many as twenty other Alaskan Villages may suffer from similar strategic shortcomings”

While the Villages struggle with the consequences of global climate change, politicians in Washington DC have been struggling for years to develop a public policy to deal with the issue. Lisa Murkowski has changed on this issue in a dramatic way.

LISA THE GOOD. 2006-2008

In an article for Mother Jones Magazine[3], Journalist Kate Sheppard documents this change. Sheppard notes that in 2006 Murkowski broke from her Republican colleagues and stated that she not only believes that global warming is a fact, she also believed “…it is a reality that man is contributing to the current warming trend. Accordingly, it is appropriate and, quite frankly, our responsibility to take steps to curb the growth of greenhouse gases”

For the next year, Lisa worked with Senators like Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) on the issue and became a co-sponsor of Bingaman’s cap-and-trade bill, the Low Carbon Economy Act.

During this period Lisa was aware of and moved by the plight of rural communities. In her introduction to the REFRESH Act aimed at reducing manmade impacts of climate change she noted “In Alaska, we have certainly seen firsthand the effects of a warming climate in recent years.”[4]

With this kind of profile it is little wonder that Environmentalists were encouraged by Lisa Murkowski The Good to believe that, with the election of Barack Obama and a strong Democratic Majority in congress, real progress could be made on climate change policy. But sometime after the inauguration of President Obama, Senator Murkowski turned bad.


The turning of Lisa Murkowski was just one-more by-product of John McCain’s appointment and ruination of Sarah Palin (I have written elsewhere that I thought Sarah was a pretty good socialist governor). When McCain-Palin lost the election, Sarah returned to Alaska as a celebrity with a national following and fund-raising power. The punditry at the time widely speculated that Sarah would have an easy shot at Senator Murkowski in the Republican primary. As a senator, Sarah would establish her bona fides (the lack of which helped pull down McCain’s candidacy) for a run against Obama in 2012 or perhaps 2016. The victory of Mark Begich over Ted Stevens provided additional trauma to Lisa who was suddenly ‘on her own’ as a Senior Senator. Lisa assumed a leadership role with the McConnell team (no doubt facilitated by Uncle Ted) and, according to the rules of that structure, she had to play ball and, in turn, would face any potential Republican challenger with a strengthened hand of plum committee assignments and national gravitas.

Unfortunately, the playbook the McConnell team was running was obstructionism and Lisa had to move hard to the Right. That meant no more maverick Global Warming stuff. While Lisa was increasing her health and armor, as a gamer might put it, she still lacked the weapons and kill points to fend off an assault by Sarah and her Troll Army. This required money—and lots of it. Sarah, after all, now had a national cult following.

So Lisa turned to the only source for amassing a war chest that she knew: PACs, industry PACs including the ever-willing energy PACs. But PACs also mean quid pro quo. For Lisa, who came to the game equipped with both brains and a conscience, this had to be framed in terms of some ‘greater good’ rationalization. Given the narrow set of options open to her, it is easy to guess how her self-justification worked: oppose my own values in the short run and I can do good in the long run; an earmark here, a bill there.

But as the anti-Obama rhetoric stepped up, the McConnell team had to match that heat with political initiatives that fed raw meat to the political mob. For Lisa, her actions were defined according to both her leadership and her committee assignments.
The Energy and Natural Resources Committee, for example, became the venue for hitting the “undo” button on the very cap-and-trade bill that she had co-sponsored.

Most shocking to the liberals and moderates who had followed her political career was her direct assault on the regulation of the very greenhouse gases that she once said had to be reduced. Most notable was Lisa’s amendment to bar the EPA from using the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide. The Los Angeles Times[5] noted at the time,

Those lobbyists, particularly one named Jeffrey Holmstead, were major facilitators of campaign donations to Lisa for her re-election.

A Washington Post Story[6] also notes working relationship between Lisa’s staff and the lobbyists:

“The maneuvering comes as The Washington Post has confirmed that two Washington lobbyists, Jeffrey R. Holmstead and Roger R. Martella, Jr., helped craft the original amendment Murkowski planned to offer on the floor last fall…In an interview, Holmstead said of the Murkowski amendment, “I certainly worked with her staff” on the exact phrasing of the measure in September.”

Politico[7] was even more descriptive of the working relationship:

“Jeffrey Holmstead, head of the environmental strategies division at Bracewell & Guiliani, and Roger Martella Jr., a partner at Sidley Austin, walked Senate staffers through the details of the amendment, via speakerphone, during a meeting held at 8:45 a.m. in Room 370 of the Hart Senate Office Building on Sept. 23, 2009…”


Lisa Murkowski filled her war chest with $124,500[8] from the clients of the lobbyists who helped her staff draft the so-called “Dirty Air” amendments to the Clean Air Act. Ultimately, of course, Lisa ended up facing not Sarah Palin, but a much weaker surrogate, Joe Miller, who, despite Lisa’s Right-Wing correctness makeover, beat her. Obviously the base didn’t buy it.

Let’s be clear, Lisa Murkowski sold out rural Alaskans on the global warming issue, and she did it for both power and money. The question Alaskans, particularly Alaskans living in the villages along the coast have to ask is if Senator Murkowski--who sold them out at least once--will sell them out again? A Government Accountability Office report found global warming was immanent and threatening as many as 31 Alaska villages because of coastal erosion flooding and climate change. The cost of relocation of those villages could be as high (in current dollars) as $2.4 Billion. These are public costs that will be borne by state and federal governments because, in part, the companies who so generously donated to Lisa Murkowski’s political reelection have been polluting for decades and wish to continue to do so.

What is particularly ugly about Lisa’s write-in is the manner by which it cleaves Alaskans into opposing camps and pits them against each other in service to her hunger for power. An example of this cleaving can be seen in the example of the Village of Kivalina, a community located within the NANA region. Many of the residents of Kivalina are shareholders of NANA Corporation, an ANCSA Corporation now committed to the write-in campaign of Lisa Murkowski.

A super-PAC of ANCSA corporate donors has been formed to plow a million dollars of advertising on Lisa’s behalf. I doubt that the Corporation discussed this with their shareholders in Kivalina.

In 2008, the Village of Kivalina filed a lawsuit against ExxonMobil, BP and more than 20 other oil and power companies alleging that their contribution to global warming is threatening to destroy the village [Kivalina v. ExxonMobil et al (2008)]. Some of the defendants, including Duke Energy, are clients of Jeffrey Holmstead. The lawsuit, from what I can tell, was dismissed in September 2009 at the District Court level in California for a lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Village tried to appeal to the 9th Circuit Court but was turned down. Ironically, the argument by the defendants (in part) was that the lawsuit violated the Article III prohibition of federal Court jurisdiction over matters of politics. The issues in contention, Global Warming and its causes and solutions, were matter to be decided by Congress and not the Courts. The Court agreed. The Irony, of course, is that once the federal District Court in California agreed with the defendants, Mr. Holmstead et al began working to stanch Kivalina in congress. They blocked their liability in court but now they had to wound any congressional urges in the same direction as Kivalina and Lisa Murkowski became their vehicle. She was perfectly suited for all of the reasons discussed above, past credibility on the issue and facing political jeopardy from her conservative base. The political assault on clean air and global warming policy was perfectly aligned with the anti-government sentiment ignited by the corporate-funded tea party insurgency. Lisa could benefit greatly by climbing aboard and she did. In a word: Lisa threw Kivalina under the bus.

Since Lisa got donations from most of the defendants in that lawsuit, including Duke Energy, one of Holmstead’s clients, I wonder how many votes she will get in Kivalina?










Elstun Lauesen is a lifelong Alaskan who has worked for 30 years as a rural develpment specialist, including in Western Alaska.


Anonymous said...

rural development specialist??

what a great oxymoron

Let me guess, you went to Don Quixote University?

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