For Murkowski, a crisis of her own making

Memorial Day, 2017: Gov. Bill Walker, left, Sec. Ryan Zinke, and Lisa Murkowski join veterans in recognizing the sacrifices of fallen soldiers at a ceremony in Denali State Park.

Josh Walton, the executive director of the Alaska Republican Party, picked up the phone one more time today, for what seemed like the hundredth time.

His phone had been buzzing constantly for two days, with people complaining about Sen. Lisa Murkowski: They can’t get through to her office, her phone is not taking messages because the message box is full. And mostly, they are upset.

Walton’s phone is where calls to the Alaska Republican Party get forwarded, and the calls were running 100 percent madder-than-a-wet-hen.

But this call was different: The caller was a Colorado doctor who was not only “done with Murkowski,” but ready to put his money where his mouth is. He said he would put up $2 million to help defeat Murkowski in the next primary, which is five years from now. It sounded like he meant it.

Alaska Republican Party Chairman Tuckerman Babcock has been answering a lot of phone calls, too. He’s done interviews with Politico and NPR, and tells Must Read Alaska he’s trying to stay focused on his message: He hopes Murkowski will come around and be a team player, and work productively to repeal Obamacare. That is non-negotiable as far as the party is concerned, he said. He doesn’t want to undermine Alaska’s team in Washington, but he hopes Murkowski comes around.

Clearly, Murkowski has struck a nerve with conservatives, and not a good one. While liberals have praised her for her stance this week to vote against moving forward on a debate on different Obamacare repeal and replace plans, conservatives have gone just short of ballistic. They feel betrayed.


“The savviest chief executive in the world often falls victim to a kind of paralysis when a crisis strikes,” wrote Steven Fink, author of Crisis Management: Planning for the Inevitable.

Alaska’s senior senator fell into “a kind of paralysis” this week when her dislike of President Trump overrode her strategic acumen.

She decided to defend her vote against the “motion to proceed” because of  “process” — the arcane process of the U.S. Senate. From words like “cloture” to phrases like “motion to proceed,” Americans don’t follow the process. They follow the results.

And her Alaskan constituents especially are, by nature, anti-process. Wally Hickel, for example, was not about “process.” Sen. Ted Stevens would not have fallen on a “process” sword.

Her vote against the motion to proceed was a principled decision, she argued, because she wanted health care reform to be handled first in committee — a committee of which she is a member. Murkowski was unable to see the forest for the trees. Critics quickly pointed out that she had offered no bill herself, nor called for committee hearings.

This evening in Washington, senators worked late on what’s being called a “skinny repeal,” which would get rid of the individual mandate that makes everyone buy insurance. Murkowski is present and accounted for, and she has even said a few words on the record about wanting to repeal Obamacare, but her conservative constituents in Alaska have felt deeply offended by her actions and words.

Murkowski is a legislative veteran, and a veteran communicator. She is knowledgeable about the workings of the Senate, and she’s a subject expert on every aspect of Alaska. But even experts need an intervention, now and then.


Hence, here are six principles of crisis communications that are part of a “Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication” course given to communicators at the Centers for Disease Control — you know, people who have to respond whenever there is an outbreak of anything related to the public health, such as as disease.

The author of this website took the course several years ago, and considers it the gold standard for crisis communications. It’s simple:

  1. Be first. The first source of communication often becomes the source against which all others are measured.
  2. Be right. Accuracy is critical to credibility.
  3. Be credible. Honesty is fundamental to maintaining trust.
  4. Express empathy. Emotion cannot be countered with facts. People must first know that their leaders care.
  5. Promote action. Giving people something specific to do restores a sense of control over out-of-control circumstances.
  6. Show respect. Lack of respect for a public in crisis undermines trust.


Politics is not public health, but the crisis communication principles are the same in both instances. A review of how Murkowski has performed:

1. Be first. Although Murkowski signaled early what her intentions were, she didn’t have a message ready when she cast her “no” vote. She didn’t have alternate legislation or a good explanation. She didn’t appear ready to handle the repercussions, so others became “first” in analyzing what she was doing, and she has had to play defense ever since.

2. Be right. Murkowski was right — the process has been less than perfect. And yet there’s a way people can be right and completely wrong at the same time. It can be right to vote against a bill, but is it right for Sen. Murkowski to vote against her own party leaders even on procedural votes?

3. Be credible. Murkowski failed the giggle test when she said she opposed the motion to proceed because she wanted to do a different process. She had not offered her own legislation or called for committee hearings in the Health committee, where she is a member. When asked by reporters about her phone call from Interior Secretary Zinke, she dodged just a little too much.

4 Express empathy. Murkowski didn’t communicate empathy. She didn’t show heart for the thousands of Alaskans burdened by high payments to insurance companies, but instead used “procedure” as her defense. Alaskans who are paying $1,200 a month for a bronze plan have been procedured to the poorhouse. They want Obamacare repealed.

5.  Promote action. Murkowski didn’t send out a poll or communication to her constituents, although she has many avenues to do so in this day and age. She didn’t show leadership and call her fellow Republicans to action. Instead, she seemed to isolate herself from her team. Her phone lines are jammed and communications coming from her office have had a “head stuck in sand” quality.

6. Show respect. Murkowski got her back up with President Trump. He is the president who won Alaska overwhelmingly, and yet she has struggled to support him even on important policy issues that a wide spectrum of center-right Alaskans support. As has been pointed out elsewhere, she seems to dislike him, and it shows.

She also failed to show respect to the tens of thousands of Alaskans who gave her the benefit of the doubt in her last two elections and voted for her in the belief that she would be a reliable, team-playing  Republican, not a Democrat in Republican garb.

Tom Boutin, a Juneau Republican who has worked on Murkowski’s campaign, put it this way: “She spent what wasn’t hers to spend. It was all of ours — you name it, the road to King Cove, ANWR, oil and gas — she spent the good will our state had brought to bear with our vote for Trump.”

Donald Trump won Alaska 51.3 percent to Hillary Clinton’s 37 percent. By any other name, a landslide.


When Sec. of Interior called Murkowski this week, it was a call from the guy who controls not only 60 percent of Alaska, but the state’s hopes for a way out of a long recession, which has cost tens of thousands of jobs so far.

Murkowski had kicked sand in the face of the Trump Administration, and that call from Sec. Ryan Zinke was a signal that she should expect to pay a political price for her confrontational political move against Trump.

We don’t know what was said in that call, and the only other person besides Zinke who knows the content of that conversation is not saying.


It’s not too late for Murkowski. She can start to rebuild her tarnished trust with conservatives by hearing them through the din of the “resist” protestors who are yelling outside her office. She can stop yielding to left-wing pressure groups who have been saturating Alaska’s airwaves with their “keep Obamacare” messages.

Conservatives, for their part, must make themselves heard, yet they cannot savage her at every turn and think she will respond favorably. But if lawmakers only hear from one side, they’ll begin to believe that one side represents the whole.

Sen. Murkowski seems to be making that error of listening mainly to one side.  This is further compounded by an emotional dislike for our president that appears to be influencing her judgment on important policy issues, to the detriment of her home state.


  1. She may get another chance. But, probably only one. If she blows it, the song will be something like: ” turn out the lights the party’s over” for Alaska.

  2. She has become arrogant and is for “me, myself and I” just to define her own wellbeing. The State of Alaska voters put her in office to help our state get what is necessary for all Alaskans. She has turned Democrat and doesn’t care for our President Trump who know what is best for the state of Alaska and those that need help such as King Cove. I am so disgusted with her and she is ruining our state, it’s too bad we can’t get rid of her now!!!!!

  3. She should switch parties! She certainly doesn’t represent me, the Republican party or the majority of Alaska!

  4. She is not now nor has she ever been a republican, she has always been a democrat. She was put into the seat by her father, nepotism in action, and has used every dirty trick in the book to stay there! We the people tried to vote her out in a primary and she wouldn’t accept our voices so she ran a write in campaign in the election and spent a lot of money to win. I hope this vote again the repeal of Obamacare is enough to get true conservative republicans to vote her out of office.

  5. I can’t begin to express the current disgust and disdain I have for the Senator. As part of her promises has been what she would do if we got rid of Obama and prevented Felonious Pantsuit from ascending her thrown. It’s gone something like this,

    If I only had the House,
    If I only had the House and the Senate,
    If I only had the House, the Senate and the Presidency,
    If I only had a backbone?

    Well as I and probably much of the state see it I think tonight was a FAIL!

  6. This sums it up very nicely, she had a chance tonight to vote yes on the skinny bill, she voted NO. Her vote killed healthcare reform. Alaska will see payback for her dislike of our President. It has happened in every administration, not just Trumps. My dad used to tell me as a kid, Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Lisa bite hard, now we as a State will pay, that’s politics and that’s sad.

  7. No, I don’t think she will get another chance; she does not deserve one. I for one and many others like me are done supporting her. Planned Parenthood and Obamacare: those were her two chances. She’s done deceiving us. Yes, we are mad.

  8. Clearly she does not represent the State of Alaska and holds
    caucus with the democraps in the Swamp … She put a big smile on her buddies mugs when she voted against Alaskans’ best interests. Nice going traitor!

  9. By your numbers, nearly 49% of Alaskan’s did not support Trump. Not a landslide, and given his incredible incompetency, I would speculate that number has changed. As a cancer survivor, I agree heathcare needs fixing but McConnell’s back door, secret comitte was an arrogant gambit that deserved to fail. Don’t always agree with Murkowski ( nor any politician) but you should realize that many Alaskan independents and moderate Republicans approve her vote and her willingness to stand up to Trump ( unlike all the others he belittled who now cowtow to him).

    • As a cancer survivor I am thankful for a choice with my health care.

      If lisa can support the murder of thousand of the unborn who is next? If single payer aka (socialized medicine) becomes law of the land as so many democrats and RHINOS want we would not have a choice to live. It would become a matter for big brother MAKING THE DECISION.!

      Look what socialized medicine has done to the family in England. Taken away choice and parental rights.

      Oh by the way lisa and other of the political class have real good medical insurance, NOT OCARE.

      Enjoy MSNBE AND the coolaide!

      • Not trying to change your mind or anyone else’s, just responding to the author that I think the process stinks (which might be why it failed 5 times) and that Murkowski, McCain and Collins had the guts to say we got to do this a different way. BTW, don’t watch TV 🙂

    • For the record, the comment above is not from Mayor Dan and most likely also not Senator Dan.

  10. She’s not an experienced communicator or legislator; she’s the “experienced” daughter of a rich, powerful man and a denizen of the fever swamp that is DC. Many of us inside the government had great hopes for Frank Murkowski’s governorship; the State was a wreck after eight years of Democrats, but Frank’s appointment of Lisa made the whole administration just a game of “catch-up” and we couldn’t catch up. Throw in Frank’s going along with the Mike Nizich wannabes on financing the damned jet and we were doomed. I know that everything I did, every decision I made between my appointment in early 2003 and the 2004 General Election was predicated on what effect that action or decision would have on Lisa’s re-election.

    I did my job; I pretty much kept the State unions out of the 2004 election between Lisa and the unions’ “made man,” Tony Knowles. Even so, it took a valiant effort by Sen. Stevens and Rep. Young to actually get her elected. Then came the ’10 debacle when she tried to mail it in and got beaten in the Primary by Sarah Palin’s sock-puppet Joe Miller. She laid down with dogs to get re-elected as a write-in and has had fleas ever since. She’s never been much of a Republican as that word has meaning in Alaska and her allegiances since ’10 have been with Natives and unions, not a natural part of a Republican constituency. The only thing that has kept her in office is the money that comes with incumbency and the Republican propensity to flock to whack jobs in the Primary. We need a legitimate, established Republican to Primary her and send her back to DC – not to serve, but to live; she fits in there.

  11. She is a cuckservative who shows why the establishment GOP is closer to Dems than any principles of limited government. She needs to go.

    A friend of mine this morning said it well: if the election were today, I’d vote for Joe Miller. Twice. And he’s a complete jackass.

    Murkowski and McCain are two reasons why you will see more Kid Rock/Donald Trump type candidates. 2018 and especially 2020 are going to be bloody.

  12. More cajones than the rest of you will ever have. Stands for what she believes in, don’t like it vote her out.

    • I plan on it. I am going to everything in my power to see that she never gets elected to anything ever again. She calls herself a Republican but votes Democrat every time, that’s not cajones that’s fraud.

    • “Stand for what SHE believes in”

      What that might be? Oh wait I forgot her daddy said it all, Hail to Caesar!

      BTW how come she doesn’t use her married name? Cajones eh!

  13. What do you expect, she was taught by a RHINO and one of the biggest crooks the Senate has ever seen in his time. She learned everything from her father and has even become worse that he was. I am glad that I no longer live in Alaska and have to put up with her. Alaskans, get together and find a way to get her out of office.

  14. RINO Lies A Lot Ms. Nepotism is kowtowing to her true base: democrats and liberal/progressives. Still remember when she told the audience in Kenai
    that she would back whomever won the Senate Primary…………..

  15. So happy, thank you Murkowski for actually voting in the interests of Alaska rather than pressure from your party. You are loyal to your constituents and I will remember this in the ballot box.

  16. Any bets on if the Senate takes a 3 week break where she will be? Tell ya where she won’t be. Anchorage, Mat-Su, Kenai, Fairbanks. Who will she talk too? Tell ya who she will not talk to, anyone conservative that didn’t give her money (I know, she has dodged each and every meeting request I’ve made). I’ll bet I know where she will go, if she even comes up. Bethel, Nome, Barrow, etc. Remember the 100 plus percent turnouts in the villages? Oh yeah, and where is the Medicaid Expansion money going to?
    Tuckerman and the ARP needs to today renounce her, and call for strong conservatives to get in the game. We need to start vetting now so that come her primary, it is one person, with a war chest from hell and the backing of 80-90% of all Republicans. Not a dime to her from the ARP or the RNC. Take that 2 million from that Doc in Colorado! Accept any and all inside Alaska and outside Alaska funds to defeat her!
    BTW, Dana Perino from FOX came up with a great idea for the President, take an hour a day and go on local talk radio. I’ve written him to do that here with Rick Rydell and Mike Pacaro for starters. Along with ARP actively vetting her opposistion and then the President calls on talk radio, with an direct attack on her, Princess Murkowski will be no longer and may even vote correctly in vain hopes of re-election!

  17. She is not a conservative, never has been a conservative and never will be. It’s sad she can not be recalled or impeached.

  18. I spoke with Lisa’s Fairbanks staffer – who indicated that both she and the senator support single-payer, Spain style (where bankruptcy hasn’t caught up with them YET).

  19. I plan to do everything possible to make sure she only has this term to lie and stab us in the back

  20. oh please; none of you selfish whiners even voted for Murkowski- I expect you all voted for Miller. Real Alaskans support her principled stand against a slapped together bill that would strip health care from thousands of Alaskans. She is the only Alaskan member of Congress that had the spine to stand up to Trump and McConnell. Don and Dan need to grow a pair.

  21. Our so-called powerful experiencef team is not looking so right for Alaska.. And what committee does the Don Young sit on anyone. We have been oversold garbage by Don and Lisa. Time for change has passed Resignation and overhaul is needed for Alaskan rights and a complete change in the Alaskan Republican party.

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