One of the most formative experiences of my life was when I accepted a job in Washington D.C., working for U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski.
During my two years as a member of her staff, I made great friends, had a wonderful time exploring D.C., watched then-Senator John Kerry run for office (who was the kind of senator who made grandiose gestures and mini-speeches to his constituents in hallways when the cameras were rolling…but no one was there, including said constituents), met then-Senator Barrack Obama (who was the kind of senator who dismissed his aides and helped a maintenance man clean up a spill…not knowing that anyone was watching), and I fell in love with my future husband (that’s him at our wedding in the photo above).
I also learned a lot about how our government functions (and doesn’t function), and discovered what really matters to me in our elected officials. I look for independent thinkers – I don’t particularly care for party politics, because I think that the way parties are used today limits healthy, spirited debate, and makes opportunities for working through issues from different sides almost nonexistent. I like people who aren’t afraid to cross the aisle and work together. I think that Senator Murkowski’s write-in campaign in 2010 is evidence of Alaskan’s recognition of her hard work on behalf of our state, not on behalf of partisan politics, and I love that she won on her own.
I think it’s so cool that all the female Senators get together for a quarterly bi-partisan dinner, and that at the suggestion of Senator Murkowski and Senator Gillibrand, President Obama invited them all for dinner. Even better – the dinner had been scheduled for Senator Murkowski’s house, and she already had Alaskan halibut to serve. She sent it over to the White House after the change in venue, resulting in numerous mentions of Alaskan halibut in the national news.
One of the things that always impressed me about Senator Murkowski when I worked for her was the way she listened to multiple sides of an issue and then make a thoughtful, well-informed decision based on what she had learned. Of course, that doesn’t mean I always agree with her, but I’m confident that she will do the work to make the best decision she can.
A couple of months ago, I was fortunate to spend a few hours with Senator Murkowski at a friend’s house, discussing the issues that mattered to us, and listening to her perspective on Congress. I think I’ll always remember the look on her face as she explained the heavy sense of responsibility she feels for Alaska and the rest of country to make good decisions for the future. It was a 1/4 vulnerability and 3/4 determination. I’ve heard people say that politicians have an easy gig, but I can say from experience that the way Senator Murkowski handles her role as senator is far from easy. Recently, she’s been leading the way on some of the most important issues of today.
Last week, Senator Murkowski’s work to elevate Alaska’s arctic as a priority for the federal government was featured in the Alaska Dispatch. I was so relieved to read this article – although in Alaska it’s clearly understood that there is both massive potential and responsibility in our developing Arctic, there doesn’t seem to be a that kind of recognition by the rest of the country.
From the Dispatch article:
“Murkowski said the disconnect between the interest of the United States in investing in the Arctic compared to other nations was made all the more clear at the Arctic Council meeting last month in Sweden. While other nations with no Arctic coastline but plenty of interest jockeyed for a place as observers to the council action, the United States was only just putting forth a policy for future investment in the region.”
Last week was a busy one for Senator Murkowski; she also wrote an op-ed sharing her thoughts on marriage equality. It illustrated one of the things I like best about her – the ability to keep an open mind. We all grow as we experience more of life; why should we expect any less of our elected officials?
Here’s an excerpt for you:
“Like the majority of Alaskans, I supported a constitutional amendment in 1998 defining marriage as only between a man and a woman, but my thinking has evolved as America has witnessed a clear cultural shift. Fifteen years after that vote, I find that when one looks closer at the issue, you quickly realize that same sex unions or civil marriages are consistent with the independent mindset of our state – and they deserve a hands-off approach from our federal policies.”
If you’re interested, The Daily Beast wrote Lisa Murkowski’s Declaration of Independence which takes a look at how Senator Murkwoski framed her shift in belief, and Julia O’Malley wrote a profile of the couple who inspired that change.
Senator Murkowski is not flashy, she’s not all about the press, she’s not all about personal gain. She’s about Alaska, and doing the work that needs to be done. And I sure am proud of what she’s doing and how she’s doing it.
I’ll end with a quote from the late Senator Ted Stevens that seems fitting: “To hell with politics. Let’s just do what’s right for Alaska.”
*Photo by Josh Martinez @ Chugach Peaks