Paulette Schurech: Why rural Alaska is leaving Murkowski



In 2010, when Sen. Lisa Murkowski needed help for her write-in campaign, I thought enough of her to run that effort in rural Alaska. If her re-election campaign reached out to me for help today, however, I wouldn’t answer the call.

This time around, I’m supporting Kelly Tshibaka, Murkowski’s opponent. This is why.

In 2014, an Alaskan public official made some harsh and hurtful comments about suicide at a high school, saying that suicide happens because of a lack of support from parents and friends. These comments came shortly after one of the students had taken his own life. Senator Murkowski defended the official’s remarks in the next news cycle, suggesting suicide is the fault of entire communities. Like many Alaskans, I shook my head in disbelief, disgusted. 

The following day, many of us Alaska Natives were outside the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) annual conference waving signs for Bill Walker when Murkowski was dropped off so she could share her remarks with the delegates.  She and I made eye contact–we have had a close relationship going back to that write-in campaign. When our eyes met, my first expression was disgust and disappointment, and I shook my head at her. I have lost so many loved ones to suicide; her press statement had hurt my heart. 

But the pain of her public comments paled compared to how her speech would pierce my soul. When she addressed the delegates, Senator Murkowski said, “Don’t you give me the stink eye and shake your heads at me. I see you,” and she pointed her finger condescendingly at all of us sitting around the room!  

Who gives anyone the right to do that?  I see you, too, Senator. This is when you lost my vote! 

Rural Alaska has some of the highest rates of suicide in the nation, and we are losing generations of our people!  Recently, our family lost another loved one to suicide. It’s still devastatingly painful. You reflect on all the stuff they did since they were little, you laugh, you cry, and a lot of the time, you ask, “Why?”

Senator Murkowski, I see you.  We need compassion, understanding, and someone who will respect us. We don’t need you to throw a piece of fish at us when it’s an election year; we need someone who will honor their commitment to the people of Alaska and our state every year they are in office.  

We need labels removed from us – the expectation that we will support certain candidates simply because of our race. These assumptions only divide us as Alaskans. 

AFN doesn’t represent me, and the tiny group of Alaska Native women who issued statements of support for Murkowski doesn’t represent me, either. It is offensive to assume that because a small group of Alaska Natives supports one politician, it means that we all do.

That is why I came out of retirement to join Kelly Tshibaka’s team: To mobilize rural Alaska and as many Alaskans as possible to come out and vote for her. I’m not a Republican; in fact, I co-led campaigns for Tony Knowles and Bill Walker. But Tshibaka has shown that she genuinely cares about rural Alaska, our living conditions, our families, jobs, housing, and suicide rates. She’s visited many of our rural communities, where some residents have asked her, “Why did you come here? Politicians never come here.” Tshibaka has slept on floors, been weathered in with us, and most importantly, listened to us. 

It’s time for a change. And I’m going to do everything in my power to make that change happen.

Paulette Schuerch is an Alaska Native leader who has been involved in politics for decades, helping to lead multiple successful campaigns and serving in Gov. Bill Walker’s administration. She resides in Kotzebue and is an undeclared voter.


  1. Thank you Paulette…I hope everybody reads your statement…and I’m not native.

  2. I was proud of our Senator until she turned against President Trump who was in Alaska’s corner all the way. Many Alaskans believe he won the election and I believe an audit will show he did win the election. She wanted to rush the certification. She revealed callous disregard for those she geographically was there to re – present. Denying the country the true result of the election and subsequent harm for the country per foreign agenda to destroy America was very revealing.

  3. Right on! I have never voted for Lisa as her nepotism tolerance is quite slimy. Time For Change!

  4. Murkowski is a turn coat and I don’t know Tshibaka except she did spent considerable time employed by the feds, will she be of great service? Who knows, maybe yes, maybe no. Palin is my choice.

  5. Paulette,

    What a articulate piece that spoke truth. I too stand with you in support of Kelly Tshibaks for Alaska!

  6. Thank you for your excellent dissertation … this gives Us a lot of things to question and think about .. it is a caring person writing this not the politician’s crew.

    I have always voted for Lisa but this year Kelly is the real deal and has my vote.

  7. Lisa must have the bush vote to win reelection. It appears that there are now cracks in her support from bush Alaska. This might be enough to ensure a Tshibaka victory, but do not overlook this crazy ranked choice voting system that we will be using for the first time in November. It may provide some really unexpected results and it would not surprise me if Lisa is everybody’s 4th choice, but somehow wins anyway. We can’t conduct an honest recount in a conventional election where only one candidate is chosen. How are we ever going to recount the votes with everybody voting for 4 people in order of their preference. It is a system perfectly designed for mischief.

    • Well said, Greg, on every point.
      Both mail-in voting, and rank choice voting, are expressly designed to manipulate elections to the satisfaction of those without scruples or principles but with a raging thirst for power.

  8. Thanks Paulette. The other commenters here and perhaps many readers will miss the key element in Paulette’s piece – the offense is disrespect. The Bush will tolerate politicians who may work against them on some issues, but they will NOT tolerate any DISRESPECT. Walker promised us a swan song, then knifed us in the back. Tony Knowles was a more “moderate” style democrat, and he really was a nice guy – his policies were bad for Alaska, but he would have continued to get the Bush vote because he listened respectfully. Republicans, we have the chance to flip at least 3 districts to Republican voters – if and only if we can listen respectfully and exhibit no disrespect.

      • Respect is a two-way street. The voters want respect returned to them. In the alternative, disrespect is also a two-way street. And disrespect is what we are going to give Lisa Murkowski this fall.

    • Not quite yet, Tweety.
      Although Frank was politically buried years ago, by Sarah Palin no less.
      I hope the pain and ignominy of that continues to burn his rotten soul.

      • Nope. I’m still enjoying life with Nancy as a triple pensioner. Federal. State. And all of the money I squirreled away as a former banker. The only thing I’m still mad about is that the State of Alaska took away my Lear jet and replaced my gold-leafed toilet with a plastic seat before I left office for good. That was COLD.

  9. There’s no way Lisa loses to Kelly in rural Alaska. Lisa knows nearly everybody and Kelly is a cheechako. Good luck

  10. I watched Kelly T visit Kotzebue in early April. With the wind chill hovering around 30 below zero. Kelly seemed very natural and responsive to questions asked of her in an outdoor setting. I am told that she later visited other villages in the region and also went door to door in Kotzebue.
    My take away is that Kelly is smart and a hard working woman.

    Lisa has become a creature of the system in D.C., her support of Joe Biden and Deb Haaland has not proven beneficial for Alaska.

    A Murkowski has held one of Alaska’s Senate Seats for 42 years. Enough already!
    Time for Lisa to retire.

    • It’s called hopelessness John, much of Rural Alaska has become a welfare plantation. The heroic example of past generations who battled the elements to survive and proudly provided for their families has been replaced by an entitlement system. This leads to a loss of values and a depreciating sense of self worth, toss in drugs and well, the picture becomes clear. It isn’t just in Rural Alaska either, one might find the same thing in Meadow Lakes or even Anchorage. The cure might be in empowering people to become economically secure, but that requires development of our resources which provides good paying jobs. Employment leads to self esteem and personal development and independence, which by it’s nature is the opposite to hopelessness and suicide.

      That is my learned opinion having lived in Alaska in 8 different decades. I recall the Rural Men I worked with back in the early seventies, strong men who had endured hardship and had provided for their families prior to the current system. Giants in my memory. Strong men. Good examples for all to follow.

  11. Please email your thoughts to consultation(dash)ak(@)ios(dot)doi (dot)gov. i agree AFN & different native groups that have a habit of getting general support type articles based on our race is wrong. I do not support Bill Walker after meeting w his administration in 2017. I’m not even Alaskan because of how they politicize us & let these organizations that aren’t tribal organizations steal our work, basically because of those laws or how they don’t provide data for what they get paid to do & there’s no competition. The more people spray up the sooner we can modernize our laws & recognize all native people equally!

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