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Lisa Murkowski

Photo of Lisa Murkowski

Lisa Murkowski grew up surrounded by politics. A third-generation Alaskan, she was born into a family familiar with public service, from school board to the courthouse to the governor’s cabinet. She heard Alaska’s growing pains discussed over the dinner table on a nightly basis. It was natural that, at 16, she volunteered to work on a gubernatorial campaign; within a few weeks, the capable teenager was running the candidate’s Fairbanks office.

Murkowski earned her law degree and went into commercial practice. She married Verne Martell and they raised two sons, Nic and Matt. But on the side, Murkowski followed family tradition by becoming active in community. In 1998 she won election to the state House of Representatives. After being re-elected twice, Murkowski accepted a controversial appointment. Her father, U.S. Senator Frank Murkowski, ran for Governor of Alaska, and won. He appointed his daughter as his successor in the Senate, rousing great controversy. “I have never once asked Alaskans to like how I got this job,” the new senator said. “I asked them to judge me by how well I did the job.” Two years after the appointment, she decisively won election to the Senate on her own.

Murkowski had established a reputation in the state House as a legislator willing to work across party lines, and she continued that in the Senate, becoming a leader in Alaskan energy issues, speaking out against the Patriot Act, and working to adapt federal education requirements to fit Alaska‘s needs. In less than 8 years, she became vice-chair of the Senate Republican Conference, the Senate’s fourth-ranking Republican.

Murkowski’s efforts at compromise during a conservative boom in politics seemed to backfire in 2010, when she lost the primary election to a Tea Party Express-backed candidate. However, her years of bridge-building paid off when voters across the state asked her to stay in the race. In less than six weeks, she built a coalition of labor, Native, energy and other groups, and retained her Senate seat. She became the first person since 1954 to win a write-in campaign for the U.S. Senate, and the only woman ever to do so.

As Alaska’s senior senator, Murkowski continues to focus on the state’s major issues: energy, veteran’s affairs, Native issues, health care, education and more. Although elected as a Republican in the write-in, she won her seat without the official backing of her party. In a state where some 54 percent of voters do not align themselves with a particular political party, Murkowski found she had new freedom to represent those voters. “We have enough to do that we don’t need to get weighted down in partisan politics, “ she said. In the words she used during her write-in announcement, channeling her late mentor, U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens: “To hell with politics; let’s do what’s right for Alaska.”


Additional Resources:

Congressional Institute,


Lisa Murkowski is the first woman to represent Alaska in the US Senate. Appointed to the Senate in December 2002, she was then elected to a full six-year term in 2004. She serves on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the Appropriations Committee, and the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Born in Ketchikan, Lisa earned a BA from Georgetown University and a law degree from Willamette University in 1985. She practiced law for 10 years, and then served 6 years in the Alaska State House of Representatives, where she was named House Majority Leader during the 2003-2004 sessions.