U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski might have been the slimiest politician in America last weekend.
"As a professional competitor in the Slippery Salmon derby, I can say the quality of the fish this year was particularly...gross," Murkowski said after competing in the dead salmon relay at the Bear Paw Festival in Eagle River.
Murkowski has become a fixture at the event, in which competitors must negotiate a short obstacle course while carrying a salmon in one hand and a Coke on a tray in the other. Alaska's senior senator said this year's sacrificial fish was already ripe when she grabbed it by the gills and sprinted toward the exchange zone, where chamber director Suzi Gorski was waiting.
"It's a humpy (pink salmon), so it's already soft," said Murkowski, who said she's now been in a half dozen Slippery Salmon races.
The senator took time to slip away from heated budget discussions in Washington, D.C. to attend Bear Paw and mingle with the thousands of spectators who turned out for what she called, "probably the best little parade in Alaska."
After gamely getting a bit of slime on her hands and jeans (like a true Alaskan, she turned down gloves and rain gear), Murkowski took time out to discuss what's going on in the nation's capital, where she returned Monday to resume budget talks.
With Republicans and President Obama locked in a stalemate over the nation's debt ceiling, Murkowski said she had hope that Congress could come to a resolution soon, and said she believes compromise is needed to get a deal done.
"We've got to figure out how we are able to come together for a solution that works for our country," Murkowski said. "Not the solution that's best for the President, not a solution that works best for the majority leader or Republicans, but a solution that's best for the country."
Republicans in Congress had been seeking cuts to government entitlement programs, while Democrats have been pushing to repeal Bush-era tax cuts. Murkowski said she thinks the answer is somewhere in the middle.
"We cannot cut our way out of it, we cannot tax our way out of it, it is really going to be a combination of measures," she said.
Murkowski said she doesn't want to see new taxes, but would like to see the nation's tax laws overhauled.
"I'm not suggesting that we be increasing our taxes at all, but I do think tax reform should be part of the consideration. Even President Clinton came out about a week or so ago and said that it was a mistake during his administration to increase corporate taxes. In fact, what he did was push corporate investment overseas, and that's not what we need. We need to get business back here," she said.
On an issue that affects many in this area, Murkowski said she's keeping a close eye on what's happening with the situation in the Middle East. With so many Alaskans deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, she said her biggest job is making sure the soldiers have what they need to adequately protect themselves.
"Our obligation to them, our commitment to them is to provide the level of support that they need, every aspect, from the equipment to the technology," she said.
Murkowski said she recently spoke to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta about making sure troops aren't pulled from Afghanistan at the expense of those still on the ground.
"As we look to bring the number of troops down in Afghanistan, I have concerns about those that have just gone over there," she said.
She said her biggest job in the Senate will be to make sure U.S. troops abroad have the support they need to do their jobs safely and effectively.
"We owe it to them," she said.
This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, July 13, 2011.