Senate debate comes to Kenai: Murkowski, Miller square off in chamber forum

Posted: Sunday, August 22, 2010

Kenai Peninsula voters were given a last chance before Tuesday's primary election to make up their minds on the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate at a senate candidate forum at Kenai Christian Church Friday night.

Hosted by the Soldotna and Kenai chambers of commerce, the forum gave incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski and hopeful Joe Miller a chance to address their positions on several audience questions.

Moderator Merrill Sikorski began the forum with remarks from the candidates on the recent death and life of longtime U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens before getting into the meat of the discussion.

Forum attendants seemed most concerned with health care issues including Medicare and services for veterans, as well as government spending.

Murkowski said the solution to the health care debacle is getting rid of the health care reform bill altogether.

"First of all what has to happen is ObamaCare must be repealed," she said. "If we are not successful with a repeal let's hope the judicial system shuts it down."

Miller said government should not be involved with health care. Health savings accounts should be expanded, he said, to allow for free-market ideas.

Murkowski's position on ObamaCare is a point of contention in Miller's campaign advertisements, where he claims she did not always think the bill should be repealed.

"I remain stunned to this day in any way, shape or form I might have supported ObamaCare," she said. "I voted to repeal it long before any opponent suggests I repeal it."

Miller refuted this at the forum, saying that she did not vote to repeal it but voted to table it.

At this comment, Murkowski rolled her eyes.

"It's been frustrating because there's a very public record out there," she said in an interview after the forum, adding that the record has comments from both opponents and proponents of the repeal saying "it was the real enchilada."

The candidates also fielded questions about the second amendment, the in-state gasline, environmental protection and bailouts.

Both said a big problem with the current administration is government spending.

"Since the Obama administration came in we have been dealing with bailout after bailout after bailout," Murkowski said. "It is critically important to recognize when we are in a hole with our debt we just quit spending."

Miller said the problems facing the nation are fiscal.

"Fiscal responsibility is key," he said.

But he said one area of expenditures that should be increased is in services for veterans.

One of the last questions asked the candidates if they think it's fair to use the phrase "Too big to fail" to describe the federal government.

"No, we are not as a country or a government, too big to fail," Murkowski said. "We are headed in a direction where we could be headed off a cliff."

Miller said, "it's absolutely critical the government not fail."

"We know it cannot continue at the rate it's going," he said.

In a response to the final question, Miller said he would "of course" vote for Murkowski if she is elected to be the Republican candidate in the primary.

"But I'm going to win the primary," he said.

Murkowski said she respects the electorate and would support whoever wins.

Marta Eldridge of Kenai said the forum was a place to hear more about the claims Miller has been making against Murkowski in campaign advertisements.

"I've supported Lisa Murkowski in the past and wanted to see why there would be those accusations," she said. "I was really very happy to hear first-hand from both of them. Now I'm going to go home and think about them."

Others had their minds made up.

"I came in here 90 percent sure who I was going to vote for but the other candidate didn't persuade me," said Dena Cunningham of Kenai, who said she would be voting for Murkowski.

Bob Thraves of Kenai was leaning the other way.

"I thought Joe Miller was more passionate about his efforts to fight the spread of socialism in America," he said. "I like his passion for the things he was for and the things he was against."

Polls for the primary election will be open Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. See Page A-4 in today's paper for a listing of polling places.

Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at

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