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MADDOW: Preparing to talk to you today, I felt like I got--I felt like I had been looking through a telescope and then I turned the telescope around the other way.
SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R-), ALASKA SENATE CANDIDATE: Yes.
MADDOW: Because the national story of this race is, oh, there"s this Tea Party uprising and all sorts of people on the Republican Party are getting primary from the right. And it"s the story and usual national thing going on.
MADDOW: But in 2002, you got primaried from the right. In 2004, you got primaried from the right.
MURKOWSKI: No, not in 2002 because remember--
MADDOW: But you were in the state legislature.
MURKOWSKI: Oh, oh--yes, yes.
MADDOW: And then when you were in the state legislature, you got primaried from the right and you won.
MURKOWSKI: That"s true. That"s true. Right.
MADDOW: And in 2004, defending the Senate seat, you were primaried again from the right.
MADDOW: And now, in 2010, you"re getting primaried from the right again.
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MURKOWSKI: Yes. You would think I would get the message.
MADDOW: Well, what is the message? I mean, why does this keep happening to you?
MURKOWSKI: Well, I mean, I"m from Alaska. Over 54 percent of the people in our state choose not to affiliate themselves with a major party. And so, when you come on, you are the Republican, you"ve got to expect that there is going to be a challenge. That is kind of the nature of the politics in our state.
But I"m not going to change who I am. To conform to that period of time when there"s an election. I"m not that kind of a person. And so, I know, there"s a challenge from the right. I have survived it in all of the other instances, didn"t so much survive it in this cycle.
And--but yet again, think about the dynamics of the Alaska electorate. We just don"t fit neatly into these party boxes.
MADDOW: One of the reasons that we came here is because there does seem to be a persistent sort of, not--I don"t want to say hard right because I don"t want to it sound pejorative. But a very conservative wing of the Republican Party.
MADDOW: FOX News makes me crazy, but I am--I am a--I am a real admirer actually of Greta Van Susteren. She did an interview with you last week where you said something really interesting. You said you remembered a time when the moral majority came in and turned Republican politics on its head here in Alaska.
What did you mean when you said that to Greta?
MURKOWSKI: And it was--and I don"t know what was going on in the rest of the country. I can just tell you what was happening locally, because I was very involve as a Republican in my party at that. There was just this movement from the far right where the focus was really on a litmus test of very conservative Republican values, and if you weren"t there 100 percent on abortion, if you weren"t there 100 percent of some of these other very conservative social issues, then you weren"t a bona fide Republican.
MURKOWSKI: And there was a push to really--to take over within the party, some of the party leadership, a move to elect only those candidates that pass that litmus test. And that was a period in our state that caused a lot of tension because you have so many Republicans in the state, like me, who, you know, look at it and say, well, OK, I"ve supported this one but I don"t support this one. So, I don"t necessarily pass your litmus test.
But what are we looking for here in our state in terms of leadership? Aren"t we looking for somebody who can take good ideas from both sides, marry them together, develop good policy? Isn"t that what we"re trying to build here?
Or are we really trying to define people according to somebody else"s test, somebody else"s purity test? I don"t think that"s good for us as a party. I don"t think it"s good for us as a nation.
MADDOW: It seems to be the consistent impulse in your party though.
It doesn"t--it"s not a one-off thing. It"s not a Joe Miller phenomenon.
MURKOWSKI: Yes, it"s true.
MADDOW: It"s been happening cyclically for a long time, and it"s a lot of times manifest itself by people taking you on.
MURKOWSKI: And I guess real question then is, it manifests itself in people taking me on. And what"s the outcome? Well, I"ve managed to survive through that process.
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MADDOW: The charge that you"ve made against Joe Miller is that he"s too extreme, that he"s out of the mainstream. What specifically makes him too extreme?
MURKOWSKI: Well, I"ll tell you: when somebody, like Joe Miller, or those within the Tea Party, suggests that the safety net programs that we have, whether it"s unemployment, whether it is Medicaid, the DenaliKidCare program that we have here in Alaska, whether it"s Social Security--that somehow or other, these are unconstitutional because they"re not enumerated within the powers of the Constitution. That somehow or other, we should just be eliminating these.
I think that that is--that is out of the mainstream. I don"t think most Americans would agree with that.
MADDOW: But you voted--you voted in favor of privatizing Social Security--this idea of personalized accounts.
MURKOWSKI: I voted for a pilot program back in 2007, 2006, and I don"t remember what it was--a pilot program that would allow individuals to take a certain percentage--I don"t think it was more than 25 percent but I don"t really recall. But a certain percentage of the retirement income, and if they wanted, they could opt into a program like this.
The thing that we find with Social Security is: most seniors don"t really want to figure out how they should be investing. And they"re afraid of it and, quite honestly, after what we saw with the markets the past couple years, I think most people there are looking at that and saying, not so good an idea.
MADDOW: Well, that program was being piloted but you voted for it as a stalking horse to see if we could privatize Social Security. George Bush is now saying that"s his great regret of his presidency, that he didn"t go all the way, and he didn"t get to privatize it - and you were with him on that.
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MURKOWSKI: I was with him on a small pilot project for those only who felt that they can do that. My parents can probably handle investment of their own income. My mom is pretty savvy on that.
Most seniors, I"m not so sure that they are comfortable with that. Why would--why would we force them to do that? And if it"s an option-only and that"s what that was, it was an option-only, then that"s something that, you know--
MADDOW: And no matter how savvy you are, if you opted for it, and you had your money in there before the crash, then no matter how savvy you were as a person or how much else you had going on, the safety net is gone.
MURKOWSKI: It is. But you have made that choice.
MURKOWSKI: Not your government telling you, well, sorry. You"re on your own. I think that"s the difference.
MADDOW: Yes. That"s the difference between it being a safety net, though, and not. A safety net says, no matter what bad decision you make, it"s a safety net for you.
MURKOWSKI: Yes. Yes. Although it"s a safety net now, how much of a safety net is going to be for you and me?
MADDOW: Well, you said that you want to look into raising the retirement age?
MURKOWSKI: I think that is one of the considerations. And, obviously, we"re going to learn more from these two bipartisan commissions. They"re out there in terms of what the options are, the pros and cons. I"m glad that somebody is doing that because this is too big to get wrong.
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I think we need to have those that have been doing nothing else for the past eight, nine months, to focus on these issues I want to see. But for--as one of the alternatives, I think that is one that is somewhat reasonable.
Although when I talk to some of the folks that are here in the state that, for instance, our laborers, the guys that are working the docks down here, they"re looking at me and saying, yes, I"m living longer. But let me tell you when I hit 65, I"m ready to--I"m ready to stop.
And, so--you know, there are pros and cons on this. I throw that out as an option. I don"t throw it out as something that, yes, by golly, this is what I"m going to be voting for.
I think we need to be OK in talking about what the options are without being crucified for the suggestions that are out there. Now, you"re tagged as aha, you"re going to raise that limit. We need to put--we need to put the option that are out there on the table. And I hope that when this bipartisan commission actually does come out with something, we can have a good and a hearty debate about what those proposals are without getting nailed.
MADDOW: The reason I press you on it is because if the distinction that you"re drawing between and you Joe Miller is that he"s putting Social Security at risk because he"s really radical and he"s got really radical ideas about constitutional--
MURKOWSKI: And he says eliminate it.
MADDOW: Yes. And so, he says it should be--it"s unconstitutional. He says he wants to get rid of it. It is--I think it"s important for people to understand that"s what Joe Miller"s perspective is on Social Security.
MADDOW: But you"ve got--you"ve got--you"ve got strong ideas about Social Security, too, which are not necessarily about leaving it the way it is. And so, that"s, I think--
MURKOWSKI: And that"s fair.
MURKOWSKI: That"s fair.
MADDOW: You have criticized Joe Miller as somebody who will absolutely reduce the amount of federal money coming into this state by principle. But when you voted "no" on the stimulus, you also did things like--I spend some time on your Web site. You congratulated--you sent out a congratulations press release on $50,000 that was coming in on stimulus on HIV community standards of care. And you put out a press release, touting new preschool programs on Alaska school districts funded by the stimulus.
You"re touting these programs that you voted against. Isn"t--is there--that seems hypocritical to me.
MURKOWSKI: Well, and keep in mind that any press release that went out was on initiatives that we had been advancing--for instance, the initiatives for early learning. These were things that we had been developing, been working.
Now, in fairness, after a couple of those press releases, we didn"t issue any more. When moneys came out on the stimulus, Mark Begich sent out the headlines. We didn"t send out the headlines.
MADDOW: Because you voted "no" on that money.
MURKOWSKI: Because did I vote no on the money. I"m still waiting to see the full impact of those stimulus dollars here in my state. I talked to people every day, wishing and waiting and hoping and praying that they"re going to see something coming their way.
But--it"s a fair point to bring up. And we recognize that, you know, it"s a "no" vote. Let"s--you know, it"s not worth it.
MADDOW: Senator Murkowski, this is a tough race for you. You"re trying to do something historic.
MURKOWSKI: It"s a fun race. It is a fun race.
MADDOW: If you do this, nobody has ever won a statewide write-in in Alaska ever. Nobody has won write-in to the Senate since 1954 since Strom Thurmond.
MURKOWSKI: It"s about time, though, don"t you think?
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