Around midnight, the senior senator picked up a chair from a small stage and brandished it over her head. Her triumphant howl rose above the noise of the crowd: “I am the chairmaaaaaan!”
The Republican sweep gave her the power she’d been seeking for over a decade: chairmanship of the prestigious Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. No other seat in the Senate holds so much influence over how and where energy is developed, and no other state has as great a stake in the matter: 61 percent of Alaska is federally owned, and 90 percent of its revenue comes from the oil industry.
Lisa, as nearly everyone in the state calls her, had also strategically positioned herself to lead one of the most important subcommittees in resource development: the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies. This second chairmanship controls the spending of energy-policy heavyweights like the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Environmental Protection Agency, giving Murkowski unparalleled leverage over officials who might thwart energy development — and making her among the most influential people in Washington when it comes to the economies and environments of the American West.
“In the context of other Alaska members of Congress I’ve dealt with in the past 15 or 20 years, she’s the most formidable,” says Athan Manuel, director of the Sierra Club’s Lands Protection Program. “She’s smart, she’s serious, and she’s very professional.”