Friday MARCH 13, 2015
Hello from Washington, D.C., where a week after most of the Senate (but not me) shut down for snow, it’s hitting spring-like temperatures in the 60s. We have been busy with budget hearings in committees and have begun our appropriations subcommittee work. The best part of my recent days is visiting with so many Alaskans who have made the trip out here to Capitol Hill. It's D.C.'s version of March Madness!
Here are some stories about my recent trips back home, along with an update on what I’ve been up to in the Senate.
Alaskans roll with the punches…and the weather. Because what do you do when you have a sled dog race that’s supposed to start down the middle of 4th Avenue in Anchorage and you have no snow? Well, you bring in 500 truckloads of snow and you make it work.
It was wonderful to be at the Iditarod’s Ceremonial Start in Anchorage this past weekend and see so many of you come out to show your support for these amazing athletes. The Iditarod is truly the Last Great Race on Earth, where man (or woman) and canine take on the world and demonstrate what Alaska is all about. And while the 968 miles might cover some of the most beautiful terrain Mother Nature has to offer, it’s also some of the roughest. I admire the mushers, for the dedication they have to the sport and the passion they have for their dogs. I have to say, it’s neat to see this year’s record breaking amount of females entering in this grueling race.
I loved visiting with many of the mushers as they came down the chute, and I even got to try my hand in being a dog handler! Despite the fact the race started with more slush than mush, it was a great day to be outside on a sunny day in Alaska filled with the sights and sounds of the sled dogs eager to hit the trail.
I’ve had countless people ask who I’m rooting for. You know I can’t answer that, but I truly admire with them all. Though I’m in D.C. now, you can bet I’ll be tracking the teams along the way. We’ve even got a leaderboard set up in my office!
(I jumped in to help Musher #3 Jessie Royer’s sled dog team get lined up at the start with my niece Brenna Dwyer. It was too much fun getting in on the action!)
Kivgiq Dance Festival in Barrow
Every few years, villagers from all over the North Slope come together for the Kivgiq Dance Festival and this year I was able to join the celebration in Barrow. The dancing, drumming, singing, and sharing that went on was extraordinary. While the temperatures outside the gymnasium were frigid, the energy and warmth of the people made Barrow the place to be. We ended the night by gazing awestruck at the dancing Northern Lights and watching a polar bear eat its dinner out on the ice. Alaska is truly amazing!
(Dancing with North Slope Borough Mayor Charlotte Brower.)
(The theme of the Kivgiq Festival was ‘Let us Keep Moving Together.’ Well, I kept moving… for nearly six hours!)
(I enjoyed all the dance groups from the different villages. The grand finale where all of the dance groups joined together to drum and sing was powerful beyond words!)
Kotzebue and Fighting for Alaska's Lands
In February, the Alaska Delegation was invited by the Alaska Federation of Natives to participate in their recent winter retreat in Kotzebue, as was Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell. I have been very vocal about why I believe the Obama Administration’s latest actions to permanently withdraw lands and waters from development are wrong.
(Arriving in Kotzebue for the AFN winter retreat.)
I joined with the Governor of Alaska, the Lieutenant Governor, the rest of the Alaska Congressional Delegation, Native leaders, and the leadership of our state legislature and we spoke loud and clear of our opposition to the feds denying us access to our resources. It’s an attack on our sovereignty and our ability to develop a strong economy that allows us, our children, and our grandchildren to thrive.
(In an effort to explain to others the complicated land management system in Alaska and why it has become so difficult to access our resources, I made a short video.)
Speaking to the Alaska State Legislature
I always look forward to being back in Juneau in February to address the Alaska State Legislature. This year, I spoke about national security and our support for the men and women who serve our country, as well as Alaska’s economic and energy security. The state is facing challenging times with low oil prices, which have delivered a blow to our budget. While we may be limited in our ability to control prices, we do have influence over production. Our challenge remains gaining access to our lands--an ongoing batthle with the federal government.
(Speaking to the Alaska Legislature.)
(Proud to stand with the women of the Alaska State Legislature.)
Demonstrating Arctic Leadership
I have been working to advance Arctic issues and awareness since I came to the Senate a dozen years ago. We are making progress, but not at a rate that satisfies me. The United States is set to assume the Chairmanship of the international Arctic Council next month, and the world will be looking to our leadership as an Arctic nation. As other nations, including non-Arctic nations, are making investments and pursuing opportunity in the Arctic, the U.S. is lagging.
We need to step it up. I recently announced the formation of the U.S. Senate Arctic Caucus with my colleague Sen. Angus King of Maine in order to build more momentum with decision-makers. I also held the first Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing focused solely on Arctic opportunities and am drafting legislation to chart a course for improved infrastructure in the Arctic region.
(Every state has a stake in the Arctic community. Click to watch my speech introducing the U.S. Senate Arctic Caucus.)
Demanding Answers from the Interior Secretary
Since the federal government manages a majority of Alaska’s land, the Department of the Interior has an oversized influence on our state’s economy. In recent weeks I have had the opportunity to question Secretary Sally Jewell, who appeared before both of my committees--Energy and Interior Appropriations. I pressed for answers on the King Cove road, support for tribal safety, and prioritizing the people of our coastal communities.
(The administration talks a big game about helping coastal communities, but doesn’t back it up with resources. I asked Secretary Jewell about her agenda for villages like Kivalina.)
Working for Sportsmen
Making sure there are ample and fair opportunities for hunters, anglers and other outdoorsmen is a priority of mine. I have introduced the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act with Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) to reauthorize key conservation programs, improve access to public lands, and help boost the outdoor recreation economy.
(I ended yesterday’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the Sportsmen’s Act by explaining why increasing access to our public lands is so important to me—click to watch.)
I have been working on many of these measures for several years and was recently recognized by Safari Club International as "Legislator of the Year" for these efforts.
Out and About in Alaska
(Heart disease and stroke are the biggest health threat to American women. I attended the “Go Red for Women” lunch in Fairbanks to raise awareness.)
(The Sikuliaq is our newest scientific research vessel built by NOAA and operated in conjunction with the University of Alaska. The Sikuliaq will be homeported in Seward will do research all around the area. I visited with Captain Michael Hoshlyk and Dr. Michael Castellini when I was in Juneau.)
(I celebrated hockey week in Fairbanks with John Haddad and John Rosie at the Ice Dogs hockey game.)