Senator speaks to UAA economics students

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski thought she might be a bit brave to come speak before a group of bright, young economics students.

“I have to tell you when I got the invitation to come speak before an economics club, it kind of made my palms sweaty,” she said.

Despite joking about her fear, Murkowski spoke to a crowd of 50 students and faculty in Business Education Building Room 207 during a Feb. 24 event put on by the UAA Economics Club. Murkowski said she couldn’t pass up the opportunity when it was possible to fit into her schedule.

“I don’t get out to the universities enough. I probably get to UAF more than I do Anchorage,” she said. “I’m hopeful I’ll get to spend a little more time here in the future.”

Murkowski opened her talk by stating that coming to UAA took her back to her own college experience.

After starting out as an education major, Murkowski said she made the switch to business, more specifically economics, but it wasn’t something she was passionate about. Murkowski said she is happy she made it past her initial struggles in her coursework.

“Now the irony is everything I do comes back to economics,” she said.

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Murkowski spoke about real economic issues facing us right now including environmental regulations, the reform of Social Security and the development of a natural gas pipeline in Alaska. She said the need for the gas pipeline is based on the simplest of economic tenets: supply and demand. But that Alaska’s limited infrastructure has slowed access, which is where politics comes into play.

“If you think what you are working on is ethereal and theoretical, let me assure it is all very much real life situations,” Murkowski said of the relationship between politics and economics.

Murkowski then took questions from the students on the gas pipeline, how to use an economics degree as a stepping stone, Alaska’s position in Congress as a strength, the need of infrastructure to aid economic development in the state and how to diversify the economic base in Alaska.

Steve Jackstadt, a UAA economics professor, thought the availability for direct contact with a U.S. senator on campus should have attracted a larger crowd but most Alaskans take for granted the opportunity to speak with their leaders.

“This is why I came to Alaska personally,” said Jackstadt, a California native. “Because you’re standing there with a U.S. senator. The access that Alaskans have is unprecedented and terrific.”

Lance Kaufman, economics major and member of the Economics Club, was excited by the opportunity to talk with a politician who has an economics background.

“The important part for me was her ability to emphasize how useful an understanding of economics is,” Kaufman said. “I’ve run into many students who said, ‘I enjoyed my intro Econ class but I just can’t see myself graduating with an Econ degree because it’s not going to get me anywhere when I start looking for some money.’”

Kaufman said the club had talked about having Murkowski come speak but it was club president Kathleen Ahern-Karnes that deserved the credit for securing a confirmation from the senator.

“I think everyone in the club was pretty astounded when we found out that she was coming,” Kaufman said.

Murkowski was more than happy to accept the club’s invitation as an opportunity to connect with students.

“You’ve got to recognize that to be able to hear questions and interests from (young constituents) is great,” she said.

Alain Charles, a graduate student in business administration, took part in the question and answer. Charles was happy to have a chance to speak to a member of Alaska’s delegation in Washington, D.C. But he was disappointed with the answers he got in regards what Murkowski and her cohorts were doing diversify Alaska’s economy beyond oil.

“I think she skirted the question. I don’t care about potatoes. I don’t care about Taiwan. We need to talk about the future of Alaska more in depth, focusing on economics. Hopefully she’ll come back,” Charles said. “It’d be great if we could have a symposium with her, Ted Stevens and Don Young. That way we could really find out what they’re doing as opposed to just shaking peoples hands, glad-handing in D.C.”