By Rachel D’Oro
• Associated Press Writer
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The defeat of Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski by an upstart fiscal conservative in Alaska’s GOP primary could mark a significant shift for a state that has so long relied on federal pork to survive. The outcome was also an unexpected blow to the seniority Alaska has enjoyed in the Senate.
Even as the far northern state stubbornly adheres to its reputation for independence, it relies more heavily on federal spending than any other state, thanks largely to congressional powerhouses such as the late Republican Sen. Ted Stevens.
But a shift in that approach could come in the form of Joe Miller, who defeated Murkowski with the strong backing of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party Express as he campaigned against runaway government spending.
Noting that Alaska has long depended on federal largesse, Miller says the state could work toward self-reliance with more control of its own resources and a reduction in federal regulatory burdens.
He is favored to win in November over Democrat Scott McAdams, a little-known mayor of the southeast Alaska town of Sitka.
Alaska’s sole representative in the U.S. House, Don Young, has been adept at bringing federal dollars to the state for almost four decades and no one expects his goals to change.
But Stevens, who was killed in a plane crash last month, brought home billions from Washington to fund highways, pipelines, ports. Alaska lost his formidable seniority and some power to capture a huge share of federal money when he was defeated by Democratic Sen. Mark Begich in 2008 following a corruption conviction that was later dropped.
For many longtime political observers in Alaska, Murkowski’s defeat continues a trend of losing Senate seniority and influence — key elements in the state capturing hundreds of millions of federal dollars each year.
Without Murkowski and with Begich still building tenure, Alaska has virtually no pull in the Senate, said University of Alaska Fairbanks political science professor Jerry McBeath.
“And the Senate has served Alaska marvelously over the 50-year period of statehood,” he said.
University of Alaska Anchorage political science professor Carl Shepro noted that in post-victory interviews, Miller has toned down his anti-spending stance a bit, probably to appeal to less conservative Republicans.