SUNDAY AUGUST 4, 2013
As I write this, I am finalizing plans for my trip back home in the state for the August work period. After an eventful few weeks in Washington, D.C., I look forward to an informative time in Alaska meeting with many of you. My plans have me going from Ketchikan to King Cove, Barrow to Unalaska, with dozens of locations in between. I truly look forward to the people I’ll meet, the places I’ll see, and the insight I’ll gain along the way. Before I get started on my trip, I would like to update you on what has been happening the past few weeks.
It’s been a busy month for those of us fighting the proposed U.S. Air Force transfer of the F-16 Aggressor Squadron – with some promising developments. First, the Air Force has acknowledged that they have not listened closely enough to Alaskans’ concerns and agreed to extend their public comment period through August.
In addition to participating in the Alaska hearings by telephone, I testified before the Commission on the Structure of the Air Force to point out the flawed logic I see in the USAF downsizing Eielson just as the Pentagon is focusing on the Pacific region. With Iran and North Korea making waves in that part of the world, we should be maintaining or even strengthening our military footprint in Alaska. I shared with the Commission that I had heard the Air Force was also considering Eielson as a home for a new squadron of F-35s, and told them I did not see any rationale for downsizing a base while the Air Force is also thinking about building it up.
CLICK on the image to watch me speak up for the future of Eielson at the Commission on the Structure of the Air Force.
After weeks of rumors about Eielson being looked at for F-35s, it was great news to see the reports that USAF Pacific Commander Carlisle confirmed this information in a press conference earlier last week.
As a member of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, I was thankful that my colleagues on the subcommittee accepted my request that we include language in the FY2014 Defense Appropriations Bill that prohibits federal funds from being used to move the aircrafts. That just Thursday, and is now ready for the Senate floor for consideration.
Like I said, many positive developments – but I don’t plan on taking my foot off the gas pedal in terms of continuing to make the case that America Needs Eielson.
Alaska Report with my Summer Interns:
As I do every summer, I sat down with my to record an edition of the Alaska Report. I wanted them to ask whatever they had on their mind, and I was encouraged by the detailed questions I received from these young Alaskans. I invite you all to take a look; we talked about government overreach, what led me to support the Senate’s immigration reform bill, and the NSA’s intelligence program.
CLICK on the image to view my most recent edition of the Alaska Report with my second session interns.
Student Loan Interest Rates Get “Lowered and Locked”:
In last month’s newsletter, I laid out the changes facing student loan interest rates and today I am happy to tell you about the permanent fix recently agreed to here in Congress for all students.
As many of you recall, the interest rate on undergraduate subsidized student loans doubled from 3.4% to 6.8% at the beginning of July. An early effort proposed a temporary, one year fix for the 40% of students with undergraduate subsidized student loans, but I felt Congress needed to find a permanent solution to ensure all students – graduate and undergraduate – across Alaska and the country have access to affordable student loan rates.
To restore lower rates for students, I voted with 80 of my Senate colleagues for the Smarter Solutions for Students Act, which permanently ties federal student loans rates for all students to the U.S. Treasury’s 10-year borrowing rate. I supported this measure because young Alaskans and their families, as well as those wishing to invest in their futures through training programs and advanced degrees, deserve a clear and permanent path to obtain low loan rates.
Last week, the House of Representatives passed the compromise legislation we approved in the Senate the week earlier by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 392-31. This will lock in rates for students every year and ensure college students have the lowest rates possible in this current economic environment, with rising college costs and tightened job markets. The White House has already called this legislation a ‘win for students,’ so I completely expect the President to sign it into law.
Fighting for Alaska’s Sustainable, Globally Recognized Fish:
In June, the National Park Service announced it was only going to sell sustainable seafood within our national parks. While I am a huge proponent of promoting healthy and sustainable foods, the way the NPS has determined “sustainability” eliminates wild Alaskan salmon from their menus. This is unacceptable as Alaska seafood is world renowned for its sustainability. The NPS is relying on certification from a London-based NGO that requires payment for their approval -- despite the fact the NPS is prohibited by its own rules from allowing third party views to dictate policy.
I recently addressed this issue in a committee hearing to the National Park Service Director. He assured me Alaska salmon will be included in the NPS guidelines, but I made it very clear we needed to discuss this in greater length. You can watch the video by clicking the image.
I have taken every opportunity to share my concerns publicly: a letter to the Directors of each related government agency, directly to the NPS Director in a Senate Committee hearing, and most recently in a follow up meeting with him. I’ve been assured Alaska’s salmon will be included in the National Park Service guidelines, but clearly there is more to be done to resolve this issue. Alaskans have worked too hard to promote our wild sustainable seafood to lose ground due to a labeling process.
I asked the National Park Service Director to meet with me directly to discuss my deep concerns for their exclusion of Alaska wild salmon from their concessions. The NPS Director and I agreed to continue to work together to address this issue.
“Get out and Play” for Ted Stevens Day:
Last Saturday, as Alaskans across the state joined together to get out and play in celebration of Ted Stevens Day, I shared a brief message to honor Uncle Ted’s love for Alaska’s great outdoors! We had beautiful weather in celebrations across the state, and I made it to events in both Anchorage and Fairbanks.
CLICK on the image to view my statement on Ted Stevens Day.
Here I am with Catherine and other members of the Stevens family at the ribbon cutting of the new Cuddy Family Mid-Town Park Playground for All in Anchorage. It’s the first fully accessibly play area for kids in AK.
On Ted Stevens Day I got a chance to peruse some of the UAF Ted Stevens Paper Project at the celebration in Fairbanks.
At the Cuddy Park celebration for Ted Stevens Day, I spoke about how we see Uncle Ted’s fingerprints on nearly everything we come across in Alaska. CLICK on the image to take a look.
Veteran Spotlight - U.S. Army Veteran James Hastings:
I am proud to introduce the most recent edition of my featuring Wasilla resident James Hastings, a U.S. Army veteran who served 22 years in the Infantry and later in both the Army Reserves and Alaska National Guard. Hastings continues to serve our great nation through his dedication to the battle wounded and battle weary in Alaska and beyond.
When he was only 17-years-old, Hastings felt the tug of service, as he decided to carry on the tradition of military service in his family that began during the Civil War. Hastings was assigned to the elite 82nd Airborne Division and trained all over the world, including Germany during the time"the Berlin Wall came down. Upon returning stateside, Hastings was stationed in Alaska at Fort Richardson. In all his years of active duty Army Infantry, Hastings says it was difficult never seeing active duty combat – something he says “one must come to grips with.”
(Click on image for an excerpt of James talking about having to heal himself before he could help heal others, for the extended interview).
Today, Hastings has devoted his life to helping other military members and veterans in his role as the Alaska Employment Transition Coordinator for the Department of Defense’s Hero 2 Hired program, and as the Director of Operations for Alaska’s"Healing Hearts, a local non-profit.
I invite you to watch James tell his story – how he proudly stepped up to serve our country and the devotion he has for helping his fellow soldiers and veterans. If you have a family member or friend in the community you think has a story to share, email me at xxx.
Alaskans in Washington, D.C.:
My second group of summer interns and I met for a photo in front of the Capitol Dome during their last week in Washington, D.C.
I personally thanked both my pages this summer for the tremendous work they did in the Senate and for how well they represented Alaska. Many thanks to Raymond and Rachel! For more information on how to become a U.S. Senate Page, please visit the section of my website.
Raymond Gerrety from East Anchorage High School.
Rachel"Tougas from Seward High School.
These young Alaskan representatives of Girls Nation joined me to share their experiences during their national conference. (Pictured: Sarah Boelter and Candace Mauldin of Eagle River, and Gabriella Serventi of Anchorage)
I joined my second session interns at a visit to the U.S. Botanic Garden for a viewing of the titan arum, also called the “Corpse Flower” because of the stench it apparently creates. This fascinating 8ft tall plant blooms only once a decade and lasts for only 2 days!
Even in the 90+ degree heat, my staff and I competed in a corn toss fundraiser to help fight against ALS/ Lou Gehrig’s disease. Everyone had a great time regardless of wins and losses, and we were able to double the donations raised last year.
Visitors from the Alaska Power Association came by my Washington, D.C. office to discuss their upcoming projects and exactly what it takes to provide power throughout the state.
I am fortunate to have an Army Fellow in my Washington, D.C. office to help advise me on a number of military issues. I was even more fortunate to participate in Major Kelsy Williams’ promotion ceremony on Capitol Hill.
I had a great visit with the Governor’s Council on Disabilities and truly appreciate their advocacy.
I met with the owners of the HooDoo Brewery in Fairbanks – a great example of a local Alaskan small business. I
The members of the Fairbanks Republican Women’s club organized the Ted Stevens Day event in Fairbanks at the Holm Town Nursery. It’s always great to catch up with friends, especially on a beautiful Alaskan day.
Verne and I took in the amazing sights and sounds of the Bear Paw Festival in Eagle River over another sunny summer weekend. This is one of my favorite parades in Alaska, and I had the honor of watching it with Colonel Reba Harris.
The competition is tough at the Slippery Salmon Olympics at the Eagle River Bear Paw Festival. For those of you who’ve never taken part, it’s an obstacle course that includes pouring a shaken-up can of soda and carrying it on a tray through the course all while holding onto a raunchy old Humpy!
Verne and I caught up with Ermalee Hickel at the Aviation Heritage Museum’s Salmon Bake and Centennial of Flight Celebration in Anchorage.
Aviation is huge in our state, and when the Aviation Heritage Museum celebrated a Centennial of Flight in Alaska, I had the distinct honor of awarding Lew Erhart Sr. the Lifetime Achievement Recognition for his contributions to Alaska’s aviation industry.
My two dogs, Tulik and Alyeska, have really enjoyed this beautiful Alaskan summer. Here they are spotting for reds on the Kenai River. Can’t wait to join them!