PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- While many delegates to the Republican National Convention use breakfast gatherings to socialize, Alaskans are taking advantage of an opportunity to quiz members of their congressional delegation.
Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young spent nearly an hour Wednesday briefing the state's GOP delegates on issues ranging from oil drilling to telecommunications links for rural areas.
''We probably get to some of these cities once a year,'' Stevens said during the question-and-answer session, which also touched upon expanding gas exploration and coal mining.
The cross-continent flight between Alaska and Washington can take up to 12 hours, limiting the number of commutes back home for Stevens, Young and Sen. Frank Murkowski, all Republicans. So the Alaska delegates saw Wednesday's breakfast as a chance for information-gathering.
''It was extemporaneous,'' said Glen Clary, an assistant to the Rev. Jerry Prevo, the delegation chairman.
''But this was a great opportunity for people in the grassroots movement from Alaska to sit here and ask questions,'' Clary said. ''It's just a blessing to have this time with them.''
Although one of the smallest delegations in Congress, Alaska's lawmakers have an unusual amount of clout.
Stevens chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee. Young heads the House Resources Committee and Murkowski is chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
During the exchange, Young told delegates they had George W. Bush's support for their top priority -- opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling.
The congressman urged the delegation not to be disappointed about the issue's exclusion from the presumptive GOP presidential nominee's keynote speech to the convention Thursday night. Bush's staff cut the reference in part because of concerns about controversy, he said.
''I know his personal stand,'' Young said. ''His staff is very, very apprehensive. This is an issue. Realistically, we have to face up to the fact that a lot people in the Lower 48 are under constant bombardment from nonprofit organizations about how terrible it is to the environment.''
The Republican-controlled Congress twice has authorized drilling in the refuge. But President Clinton blocked both efforts and Vice President Al Gore, the likely Democratic presidential nominee, has said he would do the same.
Alaska would get more favorable treatment if Republicans retain control of Congress and Bush is elected president, Young said.
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