U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski has endorsed Republican Mike Dunleavy for governor, she told a public radio reporter in Bethel on Friday.
Murkowski said a big factor in her decision was Dunleavy’s opposition to the salmon habitat initiative, which Democrat Mark Begich does support (independent Gov. Bill Walker opposed it before suspending his campaign). The comments were reported by Krysti Shallenberger of Alaska’s Energy Desk in a report that was first published to KYUK on Friday.
“I have looked at the language of this initiative and as a former state legislator, and one who was responsible we get legislation and laws right, I’m very concerned that the ways this initiative is drafted.” Murkowski told Shallenberger. “It would bring about unintended consequences that will limit our opportunity and ability as individuals and communities to really move forward with even the most simple development project.”
The salmon habitat initiative would toughen Alaska’s permitting process for projects that could affect salmon habitat. The Alaska Supreme Court struck down some of the initiative’s toughest language, but it’s still drawn considerable pushback from the oil and mining industries ($11.9 million has been contributed an independent expenditure group opposing the initiative).
Murkowski’s endorsement now puts the all-Republican Alaska congressional delegation behind Dunleavy. U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan and U.S. Rep. Don Young both endorsed Dunleavy last week, but Murkowski’s endorsement is the most important of the three.
As a moderate, Murkowski has leaned from one side of the aisle to the other in the past few years. She’s cast progressive votes like votes against the wholesale repeal of the Affordable Care Act and against the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh (well, technically present), but also more conservative votes like for last year’s Republican tax cut (which included provisions for opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge).
While her support of Dunleavy isn’t likely to bring over any of her progressive supporters to the former state senator, it could be an important vote of confidence for on-the-fence moderates or pro-business Republicans (the kind who backed Mead Treadwell or tried to pursue Walker for the GOP ticket).