U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan visited Haines on Monday. He spoke at a luncheon and took audience questions at the local American Legion.
U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan gave an optimistic look at federal government to Haines residents on Monday.
“And I know you’re all going, ‘Wait, optimism, Washington DC—Are you kidding me’?” he joked.
Servers clad in blue aprons dished out enchiladas while he explained what he meant.
“If you look in Washington, it just seems like there’s , conflict, conflict, conflict, and nothing’s happening. And what I want to be able to tell you is kind of give you a sense of what’s really happening. Because a lot of its positive,” he said.
Senator Sullivan said that he disagreed with the direction of the country five years ago, but now he sees a shift towards energy jobs and economic growth. He reported that wages in the lower 48 are on the rise. He said he’s working to see that trend manifest in Alaska.
He said he sees new potential for Alaska’s economy in the current administration.
“The energy sector, let’s talk about the energy sector. We went from a place where the federal government, at least in our state, was trying to shut down the energy sector, to now the United States is once again the world’s energy superpower,” he said.
He told the audience that the United States is the leading producer of renewable energy, natural gas, and oil—and cited the potential of opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling.
He also touted achievements in defending fisheries, securing benefits for veterans, and prioritizing Alaska in legislation and high level government positions. He told the crowd he has the ear of the President.
“One thing that’s very unique about this President is when you reach out to him, certainly in my case, you pretty much always get him,” he said.
He said he’s put that attention to use in advocating for Alaska’s interests.
And he cited local veteran Bill Thomas when he announced that his Vietnam Equity Act was signed into law in March. That’s legislation that allows Alaska Native Veterans who served in Vietnam another chance to claim a 160 acre land allotment.
“So we literally had thousands of veterans serving their country—in a war that most Americans were avoiding service on—who missed their chance to apply for an allotment, because they’re serving their country. Well, we’ve been trying to rectify that through his leadership and others’ for forty years,” he said.
Residents had a chance to ask questions after his talk. One of Senator Sullivan’s talking points was his effort to pass a new transportation bill.
Tom Spencer wanted to know if included a bump in federal funding to run the state’s ferry system. The Senator didn’t have the numbers offhand.
“I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but the next five-year highway bill that just got voted out of the Environment and Public Works Committee is a significant plus up on the Federal Highway dollars. I’m pretty sure it’s on the ferry system dollars,” he said.
If passed, the bill would increase total federal funding by $6 million dollars next year and $10 million by 2025. Sen. Sullivan’s office says this will increase funds to Alaska. The increase to the ferry system is indirect–it can be used to build boats and terminal facilities. That can free up state funds for operations.
The Senator shook hands and posed for photographs after the talk. He snagged a chocolate chip cookie and thanked his server as he walked out the door.