King salmon, alcohol, Medicaid, and climate change are some of the biggest issues facing the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. Callers from across the region asked U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan what he could do about them during a live, call-in show on KYUK on Tuesday.
Evon Waska of Bethel asked the first question; it’s one that’s on a lot of people’s minds.
“It’s a great asking, but close the liquor store for June and July and give us that peace,” Waska said.
Sullivan said that the liquor store was a local issue that needed to be dealt with by local leaders. Then he used the topic to pivot to substances that he does feel are within his purview as a Senator: opioids and heroin, and the tens of thousands of annual overdose deaths across the nation.
“So I will stay very focused on that broader addiction drug problem that is impacting not only Bethel and the YK area, but our whole state and our whole country,” Sullivan said.
Ed Kiohan in Mekoryuk was concerned about the increasing ship traffic through the Bering Sea, and he wanted to know what action the Senator was taking on a resolution the people of Mekoryuk had sent him asking for more oil spill response resources. Sullivan pledged to advocate for more assets for the U.S. Coast Guard in Alaska. He pointed to the announcement last week that Alaska was receiving eight new Coast Guard vessels to be stationed in the Southeast.
“And what I think we need to continue to work on," Sullivan said, "is ships and Coast Guard assets actually in Northern and Western Alaska.”
Like constructing a deep-water Arctic port in Nome, where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is studying the area as a potential site.
Mark Springer in Bethel wanted to know the Senator’s position on the Trump administration's proposal to refuse Medicaid work exemptions to Alaska Natives and Native Americans. The administration says that the exemptions would be an illegal racial preference. Many senators however, including Sen. Lisa Murkowski, argued that not allowing the exemptions would violate federal law, and that tribes are not a racial group, but are instead recognized by many court rulings as political communities. Sullivan said that the Medicaid work requirements should be a matter for the states to decide.
“And with regard to any kind of work requirement," he continued, "with regard to native tribes, it's actually a trust responsibility of the federal government, so I don’t support that.”
Sullivan then said that he would continue to push to increase federal Medicaid money to Alaska because of the state’s high living and health care costs.
Robert Hoffman of Bethel closed out the show. He said that discussion of climate change only leads to discussion of more regulation, and the Senator was prepared to agree with that.
“Some people, not all, their next step is to say we’re going to shut down the industries like oil and gas, which are very important for our state and the funding of our government; we’re going to shut those down," Sullivan said. "And I think that would be a disaster for Alaska.”
Hoffman then requested that tribes receive federal money to collect data on salmon runs and escapement. The data would be used to verify the numbers collected by state biologists and disputed by many tribes. The Senator said that he would take this request back to Washington.