Lucye Rafferty/The Hoya Sen. Lisa Murkowski (COL ’80) (R-Alaska) addressed the difficulties she faces in Congress in Riggs Library on Tuesday night.

Lisa Murkowski (CAS ’80) (R-Alaska), the first alumna to serve in Congress and the first Alaskan-born to serve her state as a senator, returned to her alma mater Tuesday evening to address a full audience at Riggs Library.

“It’s funny how life goes full circle,” urkowski said as she told of how she had originally wanted to become a teacher, but instead pursued economics. Today, as a senator, she said she finds herself teaching every day about what she calls her favorite subject: Alaska.

“In Alaska, it is a little bit different,” Murkowski said, speaking of the beauty of Alaska. Yet she also said that in the Senate, her state and the unique challenges it faces are often misunderstood.

She described her recent trip to the Yukon-Kuskowim Delta, one of Alaska’s outermost regions, as a trek into rural Alaska similar to trips to Africa and the Middle East made by other senators during their summer recess. According to Murkowski, residents of the Yukon-Kuskowim Delta and other remote areas of her state lack adequate sanitation systems, communications technologies and roadways.

Murkowski said she felt shocked at visiting a health clinic there and discovering that it did not have running water, and much of the non-disposable medical equipment had to be sanitized by the health workers in their homes. “This is the United States of America we’re talking about, where this is going on,” urkowski said.

Often, Murkowski said, fuel prices are high, and since much of the land is frozen tundra or wetlands, residents in these areas rely on boats, dog teams or snowmobiles to move from place to place.

Alaskans in Congress, Murkowski said, often get accused of frivolous spending when they move to purchase such items as snowmobiles for their constituents, but in reality, “the alternatives are very limited,” she said. “People don’t understand what the needs are.”

Murkowski then turned her attention to the natural resources of her state. “Alaska has incredible resource wealth,” she said. “But we have the burden and challenge of how we get it anywhere.” She spoke of her support for the proposal to create a natural gas pipeline through the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, saying she felt frustrated by opponents of the proposal. According to Murkowski, 96 percent of Alaska’s land is federally owned. As a result, much of the natural resource exploration in the state must first be approved by Congress, a process that can grow lengthy and draw controversy from environmental groups.

“People have this notion that we need to protect Alaska from Alaskans,” Murkowski said. “If we really care about the environment, we’ve got to make sure the whole environment is sound.” According to Murkowski, drilling for petroleum resources in Alaska would ensure more environmentally-sound procedures overall, as the United States has many environmental regulations that foreign oil exporters do not.

“We can [drill] responsibly, but we have to have the opportunity,” Murkowski said.

Concluding her speech, Murkowski took questions from members of the audience. She addressed her role in the Senate, as both a female senator and an Alaskan.

Murkowski, who arrived an hour behind schedule after a late vote was called in the Senate, described the Senate’s schedule as hectic, saying that, although it was not entirely conducive to family life, she and other senators with families worked together and made the necessary adjustments to both serve their families and their constituents.

Murkowski was also questioned about the prospect of using renewable energy in Alaska. With the necessary funding for the technology, she said that renewable energy could become a viable alternative to oil-based energy sources, but added that such a transition could not happen overnight. “[We’ve] got to acknowledge that there’s not just a switch that we can flip on and say we’re ready for solar energy.” she said.

Reactions to the speech varied. “Rural Alaska is a small fraction of our state,” said Alaskan Tara Rich (COL ’07) who said she felt Murkowski in part misrepresented Alaska’s diverse needs and concerns.

Jim Marrocco (MSB ’07) said Murkowski seemed “informed,” and “very conscious of the fact that she faces a lot of adversity in the Congress.”

Murkowski serves on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, the Indian Affairs Committee and the Veterans Affairs Committee.

The Office of Federal Relations, College Republicans, Women in Politics and the Lecture Fund sponsored this event.

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