Entering their final weekend before Tuesday's general election, Sen. Lisa Murkowski and former Gov. Tony Knowles are locked in a dead-heat race for a U.S. Senate seat that could well decide which party controls that body next year.
Democratic senatorial challenger Tony Knowles answers a question during a debate with incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2004, in Anchorage, Alaska. Edging up to Tuesday's election, Murkowski and Knowles are locked in a statistical tie, making the 47-year-old incumbent the most vulnerable sitting Republican in any U.S. Senate race.
AP Photo/Al Grillo
As a result, the race is seeing intense national interest and is likely to draw Alaskans to the polls, perhaps in record numbers.
The Peninsula Clarion interviewed the two candidates recently during campaign swings to the Kenai Peninsula, covering a variety of issues. Knowles was interviewed just prior to the August primary, Murkowski earlier this month.
Below the candidates discuss their views on the war in Iraq, intelligence lapses, energy policy, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, taxes and schools.
Among the issues important to voters in Alaska is the prospect for favorable congressional action on opening ANWR to oil drill-ing.
Knowles said it was fair to look at history and ask why the issue had never been resolved. The issue has been used a political weapon by both sides, he said, and as such, it has always drawn enough opposition to prevent passage.
"We have had both Demo-crats and Republicans in control and neither has been able to do it," he said. "That's why I think we need a different approach."
As a Democrat, he said, he would have influence over others in his party, influence that could lead to a coalition of votes in the Senate to ensure passage of an ANWR bill. He also said America needs an energy policy that includes ANWR, a natural gas pipeline and use of renewable fuels.
"We should adopt renewable fuels as a national mission equivalent to putting a man on the moon," he said.
Republican incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, answers a question during a debate with Democratic challenger Tony Knowles on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2004, in Anchorage, Alaska. Edging up to Tuesday's election, Murkowski and Knowles are locked in a statistical tie, making the 47-year-old incumbent the most vulnerable sitting Republican in any U.S. Senate race.
AP Photo/Al Grillo
Murkowski said ANWR would not happen this year, but that passage is possible with a Republican majority in Congress. The party is banking on Senate races in a few key states to shift the balance to a clear Republican majority, she said.
"Just one or two more votes (in the Senate) would make it happen," she said.
Still, she acknowledged that some senators, both Republicans and Democrats, who might wish to vote in favor of ANWR, face strong opposition from large environmental constituencies at home. She said it is up to Alaska to educate those lawmakers and arm them with the facts and fortitude to "stand up" to their constituencies and vote for ANWR anyway.
On the proposed natural gas pipeline, Murkowksi noted recent federal legislation that has helped clear the way.
"There is a great deal of activity," she said. "The regulatory issues still need to be worked out."
Murkowski also said she supports federal funding for an alternative energy supply.
"We need to encourage looking beyond fossilized fuels," she said.
The two candidates differ on the Bush administration's tax cuts. Knowles said he would vote to roll them back for the richest of Americans who received the bulk of those breaks.
The cuts "were not driven to stimulate the economy," he said. "They were a social program benefiting wealthy individuals."
He called the tax policy nearsighted and the resulting deficits destructive to the economy and to future generations.
Murkowski said blame for the deficits must be spread around to the end of the so-called dot-com bubble, Sept. 11, the expense of homeland security and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. On that, she said she would not change how the United States has focused money overseas to protect security here. As to the tax cuts, she supports them and disagrees with Knowles.
"By getting money back into the pockets of people, you do stimulate the economy," she said.
Small businesses would use the tax breaks to create a few more jobs, she said.
"This is how you pull out of a deficit. You see new jobs created. The economy is stronger. I believe it is a direct result of those cuts," she said.
On schools, Knowles said the No Child Left Behind Act did much to set education in America back. It effectively federalized education, he said. It was, he added, an insult to teachers.
"That act makes winners and losers out of schools and school kids, which is contrary to the name (No Child Left Behind)," he said.
Murkowski said she believes in public schools and that the No Child Left Behind Act has meant more federal money for schools. She acknowledged, however, that Alaska's schools, especially those in rural areas, face special challenges.
The growing insurgency in Iraq has made targets of American and British soldiers and threatens to unravel efforts to hold elections there in January. Knowles and Murkowski have differing views of the war, what led up to it and where the U.S. should go from here.
"I have said throughout that I support President Bush," Murkowski said.
Based on the available intelligence at the time, the president enjoyed the nearly undivided backing of Congress. It was the right thing to do, she said.
Today, the picture looks different. The intelligence presented to Congress was flawed, she said.
"Saying it was flawed is putting it mildly. It was probably worse than flawed," she said. "How could we have been so far off? How could our intelligence have been this lacking?"
Asked if the intelligence had be purposely skewed to produce a desired result a reason to invade Iraq Murkowski said Congress is still trying to determine how things got out of line.
It is clear no weapons of mass destruction have been found, she said. Nevertheless, she added, Saddam Hussein had been "leaving the door open" to retooling his weapons programs again once sanctions were lifted, and it is well known that he had used chemical and biological weapons against the Kurds.
"He was a cancer in Iraq," she said. "He was cultivating an environment receptive to terrorists."
"We are in now. I think it is imperative that we stay until the job is done," she said.
Knowles began his comments by stating his concern for service personnel on the ground in Iraq.
"I think it is absolutely essential that we get our troops home safely as soon as possible," he said.
He criticized the limited nature of the coalition put together by the Bush administration before the war and noted how difficult it would be to acquire the necessary support (money and troops) needed to suppress the insurgency now. Paraphrasing former U.S. Sen. Max Cleland, Knowles said it would be like getting people to board a plane heading for a crash-landing. Is the United States headed for a crash-landing?
"Describe it as you will, but as we know today, all the reasons we were given for going to war were false," Knowles said. "The fact that we told allies they were irrelevant and the fact that we went it alone, and the fact that the level of danger and terrorism in Iraq does not seem to be reducing, makes it is a very difficult situation."
Knowles said it is vital to get other nations involved.
"They have a stake in it," he said.
Of the intelligence failure, Knowles said attention should be focused on the Senate's oversight role. While comparisons between Vietnam and Iraq may not be very useful, there were a few lessons from the earlier conflict, Knowles said. Secretary of State Colin Powell, he noted, had said that the country should go to war only when facing imminent risk, that it should use overwhelming force backed by broad public support and that there should be an exit strategy.
Knowles also pointed to President John Kennedy's handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Intelligence then was used "to negotiate" along "parallel paths." Once a solution short of nuclear war was found, America didn't continue the war simply because the world would be a safer place without Castro, Knowles said.
He also noted that Kennedy, unlike Bush, had taken responsibility for military failures (the Bay of Pigs).
Murkowski said it is often forgotten that Saddam Hussein ignored 14 U.N. resolutions and was "thumbing his nose" at the U.S. prior to the invasion. Beyond that, the Sept. 11 terrorist attack changed everything.
One positive thing to come out of the invasion, for all its present difficulties, is the message sent to other despots that America would not treat threats lightly, she said.
The aftermath of Sept. 11 led Congress to pass the PATRIOT Act, a controversial piece of legislation giving the government sweeping new powers to combat terrorism. Many Americans, however, view its provisions as invasive and a threat to the Bill of Rights.
Knowles said he would repeal the act, adding that there is no need to erode freedoms at home to protect the United States abroad.
"The cavalier way in which the PATRIOT Act allows the government without any accountability to look at your records and investigate you they don't even need to inform you that you are under suspicion these are things that make every American just grimace at the idea our government could be doing this," he said.
The PATRIOT Act included some necessary provisions, Murkowski said. She would vote to amend, not repeal it.
"With enhanced powers must come a balance, a greater obligation that you are not abusing that power," she said. "My read of the PATRIOT Act is that they overstepped in some areas."
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