From high tunnels to halibut, peonies to Planned Parenthood, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, spoke on a wide variety of topics during a one-day visit Wednesday to Homer. Alaska’s senior senator jumped about town with a tight schedule that included:
• A visit to KBBI AM 890’s Coffee Table call-in show, where she fielded tough questions from listeners on contraception and defense spending;
• A meeting with some of Homer’s peony flower growers at the Homer office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to talk about their efforts as well as the lower Kenai Peninsula’s boom in high tunnel food growers;
• A tour of the new Seldovia Village Tribe’s Wellness Center;
• A talk at the Homer Chamber of Commerce luncheon; and
• A visit with Homer High School students, another school checked off for Murkowski’s goal of visiting a school in every Alaska community.
“There are towns that I visit that make me feel good because the communities are healthy, energetic, enterprising communities,” she told a standing-room only crowd at the chamber luncheon. “You should be proud that Homer falls into that category.”
Some of Murkowski’s most direct comments came in response to a question from Lora Wilke on the Coffee Table about her position on reproductive rights. That prompted Murkowski to speak about a trend she sees in the national debate.
“I think what you’re sensing is a fear, a concern that women feel threatened, that a long settled issue might not be settled,” Murkowski said.
She cited things like conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh’s remarks about a female Georgetown University law student, which Murkowski called “offensive, horribly offensive.”
“To have those kind of slurs against a woman ... you had candidates who want to be our president not say, ‘That’s wrong. That’s offensive.’ They did not condemn the rhetoric,” Murkowski said.
On abortion and contraception, Murkowski made her views clear.
“The right to a safe and legal abortion has been affirmed by the courts, and I stand by that,” she said. “I will continue to support funding Planned Parenthood.”
From her perspective as a Republican, Murkowski said she can’t understand why some in her party have raised reproductive rights as an issue.
“It makes no sense to make this attack on women,” she said. “If you don’t feel this is an attack, you need to go home and talk to your wife and your daughters.”
Visiting at the Homer USDA, Murkowski said she was amazed to learn Homer grows and exports peonies, and that high tunnels have become so successful.
“They’re building a market that allows for jobs and opportunities not only for the Lower 48 but a world market,” she said. “We pull it together and make things happen. I applaud that.”
On the issue of halibut allocations, Murkowski said, “You can’t come to Homer and not talk about halibut. If I don’t talk about it, you’re going to talk about it.”
A review earlier this week by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council on the halibut Catch Sharing Plan showed some promise, Murkowski noted. One good change is less rigidity.
“I think the additional review, the updated analysis is warranted so we can understand the effects of the proposed program,” she said. “Those matters that bring out angst, tension — probably all out warfare for all I know — it is important to allow for a process that allows for a level of flexibility.”
Murkowski said she’s frustrated by the partisan rhetoric, where politicians take polarizing stands because they think it helps them win elections.
“I don’t think most of you care about the winning,” she said. “You care about the governing. You care about the policies that are made.”
That attitude makes her question why she’s in Washington, D.C., Murkowski said.
“It’s not my home. My home is here, my job is there,” she said. “As long as I’m working to govern, I’m OK not to be here — if I feel like we’re making some headway. We’re not making some headway.”
Don’t give up hope, though, Murkowski said.
“I believe we’re at a point ... We have such issues before us that we can only hide behind the election for so long, and it catches up.”