Sen. Dan Sullivan chats with Chamber board member and Baranof Island Brewery Co. owner Suzan Hess. Sullivan told Sitka's business community that the key to paying down the national debt was "growing the economy." (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

Sen. Dan Sullivan chats with Chamber board member and Baranof Island Brewery Co. owner Suzan Hess. Sullivan told Sitka’s business community that the key to paying down the national debt was “growing the economy.” (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

Alaska’s freshman senator says Washington is working again, after last November’s election gave Republicans control of the body.

Dan Sullivan has been on the job less than two months, and he says that Alaska will benefit from renewed cooperation in the Senate.

Nevertheless, he isn’t quite ready to take a stand in support of his senior colleague, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, as she faces a possible conservative challenge from the right in her next election.

Sen. Sullivan was in Sitka on Friday (2-20-15) to speak to the Sitka Chamber of Commerce.

Downloadable audio.

The senator chose to talk politics before moving on to policy. He wanted to reassure the chamber that things are better in Washington, now that Republicans have 54 seats in the senate.

“The Senate is working again. The Senate is getting back to work. This is something that’s actually quite important. Over the last several years, under the previous leadership of the previous Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, we were not — and I can tell you this is the view of Democrats and Republicans — doing much work.”

To illustrate, Sen. Sullivan said that there had been 42 roll call amendment votes in the Senate since January, as opposed to 14 in all of last year, when Democrats held a slim majority.

Sen. Sullivan’s participation in the majority has landed him some choice committee assignments, including Armed Services, under the chairmanship of Sen. John McCain. His seat on this influential committee gave Sen. Sullivan the opportunity of questioning Dr. Ashton Carter, President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Defense.

Sen. Sullivan told a short anecdote about the confirmation hearing.

I said, Dr. Carter, I want to talk a little bit about geography and history. In a 1935 congressional hearing Gen. Billy Mitchell, who is considered by many to be the father of the US Air Force, was testifying before Congress, and he said _____________ is the most strategic place in the world. Whoever owns this place will have dominance over different parts of the world, whether it’s Asia, Europe, North America. And I looked at him and I said, Dr. Carter, do you know the place Billy Mitchell was talking about. And he looked at me, thinking — and there were some chuckles going around the media and the 400 people packed into the room — and he said, Sen. Sullivan, I believe he was talking about the state of Alaska. I said, You are correct. You’re more likely to get my vote now that you’ve answered that correctly.

Sen. Sullivan voted in favor of confirmation, both in committee and on the floor.

Sen. Sullivan has no committee assignment that directly involves him in foreign policy, but he says the changing world situation comes up often in hearings. He believes domestic energy policies, for instance, have improved the country’s position on the world stage.

“We are now once again on the verge of becoming the world’s energy superpower. Incredibly. Ten years ago nobody would have thought this. We are once again the world’s largest producer of natural gas. We are once again on the verge of becoming the world’s largest producer of oil. We’re becoming the world’s largest producer of renewables — as you guys know here in Southeast, where a lot of that takes place in Alaska. There’s agreement that this is a great new instrument of American power that we can use strategically to help keep us safe.”

Following the luncheon, Sen. Sullivan met for a face-to-face interview with Sitka media, where he was pressed on his support of the Keystone Pipeline. If passed, the pipeline would link oil fields in Canada to US refineries in Texas. Increased production from Canada has contributed to depressed prices in the petroleum commodities market, and undermined state revenues in Alaska.

Sen. Sullivan says it’s part of a larger energy picture.

“Look, every bill that you vote on in the United States Senate is not going to have a direct impact on Alaskan constituents. What we’re trying to do is build a coalition of senators — we had 64 vote for Keystone — who are pro-responsible resource development. In that regard, this debate on Keystone has actually been critical. We’re going to try to educate senators that Alaska plays a critical role for energy security for the future of the country, and we’ve started that debate.”

During the luncheon, Sen. Sullivan told the chamber he met with Alaska’s senior senator, Lisa Murkowski, to work out their committee assignments. Murkowski’s in her second term, and chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and sits on the powerful Appropriations Committee.

But how far their collaboration goes remains to be seen. Americans for Prosperity, the political advocacy organization funded by billionaires David and Charles Koch, recently opened an office in Alaska, fuelling expectations that Sen. Murkowski may face a conservative challenge in the 2016 primary election.

Sen. Murkowski openly supported Sullivan in his race to defeat incumbent Democrat Mark Begich last fall. Asked by reporters about his plans to reciprocate, Sen. Sullivan — at the moment — was unwilling to state a position.

“I’m just getting started in the Senate right now, looking forward, moving on beyond the elections, so I haven’t even thought about the 2016 election.”

While in Sitka, Sen. Sullivan also gave the keynote address at the Republican Women’s Dinner. Congress is on a week-long break. They return to work on February 24.