In many ways, 2021, was a difficult year in Washington, D.C.
It started with a deadly riot at the Capitol, which was soon followed by an impeachment trial. The Biden administration took office and began reversing many of the policies that are crucial for responsible resource development in Alaska. Then came policy and planning failures that contributed to the horribly botched withdrawal in Afghanistan, supply chain disruptions, and inflation at levels not seen for decades. Geopolitical threats from China and Russia grew, and the COVID pandemic continued to impact our daily lives.
There has been a lot to not be thankful for in 2021. Yet, when Congress did set aside its differences and work together, we made some significant achievements that will deliver benefits for a long time to come.
The best example is the bipartisan infrastructure package, a landmark measure that I helped write, negotiate, and enact into law. It will bring billions of dollars to Alaska in the years ahead, connecting us in new ways and demonstrably improving our daily lives. If you like good roads, safe bridges, improved ferry service, flush toilets, reliable internet, and clean energy, the bipartisan infrastructure package is a reason for optimism as we look to the future.
Another victory came in the form of the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act. The Southeast economy is largely seasonal and tourism-based, and the impact from COVID travel restrictions hit them particularly hard. With many local businesses hanging on by a thread, we couldn’t let one lost season become two, and the Alaska Delegation worked together to salvage this year’s cruise season. The exemption we secured is critical, and we are now seeking to make it permanent.
In the final week of the Senate’s 2021 session, lawmakers came together to pass a robust measure to boost defense spending, provide for an important pay raise for the members of our military, and prioritize taking care of military families. The defense bill also devotes critical resources to Arctic security and codifies key aspects of the new Ted Stevens Center for Arctic Security Studies, recently announced for Anchorage, into law.
Right before the Senate adjourned for the year, we passed the ACT for ALS Act, which the President signed last week. While that bill won’t make the evening news, it provides an incredible lift for the ALS community and the advocates who worked so hard to build support for it. This measure is about hope — hope for all who are impacted by Lou Gehrig’s disease — and it will help improve treatments and quality of life as we search for a cure.
Those are a few of the silver linings that 2021 brought. And how each of those measures came to pass — through a strong commitment to bipartisanship from members of both parties — is a timely lesson for all who have the privilege of serving in public office.
In my experience, just about anyone can launch partisan attacks to slow progress and prevent consensus from forming. It’s easier to tear someone else’s bill down than to see one of your own through to the finish line. And too many in Congress are taking that to heart right now — either having no interest in bipartisanship, or no longer seeing any benefit to it, not least because they will be labeled as sellouts if they reach across the aisle.
That’s a dangerous mindset that cannot be allowed to take hold. Alaskans benefit when we work together. Bipartisanship remains the only way to get meaningful things done and ensure they endure across elections.
There is also a broader lesson here that I hope all of us can take to heart as we head into a new year.
Showing respect and kindness, even to those we may disagree with, is worth the effort. Now more than ever, we need to treat one another as friends and neighbors. The more we do that, the better off we all will be.
It’s easy to dwell on the negatives from 2021. It was a year full of them, but we can also see glimmers of hope. As we head into another uncertain new year, there is a path where civility and common decency can prevail. And it must, for the sake of Alaska and our country.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski is the senior U.S. senator for Alaska, having held that seat since 2002. Murkowski is the second-most senior Republican woman in the Senate. Reach her at murkowski.senate.gov/contact.