Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK), talks about proposed tax reforms during a roundtable discussion Oct. 11 with business leaders in Ketchikan. (KRBD photo by Leila Kheiry)

Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan is optimistic about the future for Alaska and the nation. He spoke briefly with members of the local media during a visit to Ketchikan on Oct. 11.


Alaska’s junior senator said things are looking up for Alaska. He pointed to increased military and Coast Guard spending in the state, expected infrastructure spending, less stringent rules on resource extraction, strong prices for fish, expected tax reform and more Alaskans appointed to key positions within the federal government.

“And a huge part, as you guys know, about my job is educating my fellow senators and members of the executive branch on Alaska – unique challenges, unique opportunities,” he said. “When you get people in there who are from our state and don’t have to be educated but actually know them? It’s positive.”

There are some less-positive things happening, too, though. Among them an escalation of strong words between the United States and North Korea.

“I consistently say the tweets, the insults, the personal attacks, they’re not helpful,” he said. “I say it all the time, I’ll say it to you guys again.”

But, Sullivan said despite the president’s unhelpful tweets, there has been progress in diplomatic efforts.

“I reach out to the Asian experts all the time… The consensus is China is doing more right now to stop North Korea than they’ve probably ever done,” he said. “We’ve had two significant UN Security Council resolutions – increase the economic sanctions on North Korea that were very, very significant.”

And, Sullivan said, those efforts are backed up with a credible military threat. He stressed that military action would have to be authorized by Congress.

Another big issue that Congress grappled with earlier this year – and they’re not done yet – is health-care reform. Sullivan and Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski came to different conclusions on whether to approve Republican bills to replace the Affordable Care Act.

“I still think the Affordable Care Act is not working,” he said. “It’s benefiting some Alaskans, but the number of people in the individual market, the number of people in small businesses who I hear from are really struggling.”

Murkowski also criticizes the ACA, but said the timeline for the most recent proposal – the Graham-Cassidy bill — didn’t provide enough time to make sure it worked for Alaska. She more recently backed a bipartisan effort that has started moving through the process.

Sullivan said he made his decision to back the Republican proposals based on what he heard from Alaskans. He said he focused on making sure the Republican health care bills answered some of the state’s unique challenges.

“In both bills, the Better Healthcare Reconciliation Act and this Graham-Cassidy bill, you may have seen, there were numerous provisions that didn’t say ‘Alaska’ but were clearly directed at our state to help us,” he said.  

Sullivan said that included reconfiguring the formula for Medicaid reimbursements to take cost of service into consideration, rather than just per-capita income.

While those proposed health care reform measures ultimately failed, Sullivan said there was some progress, in terms of making other lawmakers understand what Alaska faces.

We aired an earlier story about Sullivan’s one-hour roundtable discussion with Ketchikan residents on Republican tax reform proposals.