The rising anti-incumbent tide engulfed another career politician Tuesday, as Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski lost the Republican gubernatorial primary, placing a lowly third. This was a humiliating defeat for Murkowski, a staple of Alaska politics for the past 25 years.
Murkowski was a pork-barrel politician of the highest order, unveiling with pride the $500,000 taxpayer-funded “salmon plane” (at Ted Stevens International Airport, no less). He also defended the “Bridge to Nowhere,” causing a political firestorm, then sought to use taxpayer funds for a PR firm to repair his state government’s image.
Murkowski was not some under-funded political novice. He represented Alaska alongside the aforementioned Ted Stevens in the U.S. Senate for more than 20 years, serving as Chairman of the Energy Committee for six of them. Nor was he a Republican fighting to represent a state favorable to Democrats. In the 2004 Presidential election, 61.8 percent of Alaskans voted for George W. Bush. The state hasn’t been represented by a Democrat in Congress since 1979. It is safe to say that Alaska is a very deep shade of red.
No, this was a man who, quite simply, ticked off too many voters in a short period of time. First, he appointed his daughter, then-Majority Leader of the State House Lisa Murkowski, as his own replacement in the U.S. Senate. Public outrage over the move led to a ballot measure in 2004 that stripped the governor of the power to appoint U.S. Senators, making Alaska one of only three states to do so. In 2005, Gov. Murkowski authorized the purchase of a $2.7 million jet for his own use. Critics have complained that he mixes official business with campaign stops and personal trips, leaving the bill for taxpayers. He has also been outspoken in defense of the $223 million Bridge to Nowhere, seeking to “spend the maximum allowed” on the project after Congress altered the funding.
Throughout his term, Gov. Murkowski cozied up to special interests and distanced himself from taxpayers. Named “Porker of the Month” by Citizens Against Government Waste earlier this year, Murkowski kept filling his plate at the taxpayers’ table without apology. Thankfully, Alaska’s voters have pulled the chair out from under him. Though it remains a popular notion in the halls of power, pork apparently does not pay at the ballot box.
Anti-incumbency is one tsunami that can be easy to love.