In her annual speech, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski updated state lawmakers on Alaska’s progress at a federal level.


Before getting into those details, Murkowski took a moment to remember the late Rep. Max Gruenberg, who died in Juneau Sunday morning. Murkowski placed a single rose on Gruenberg’s empty desk in the House.


Murkowski addressed the state’s fiscal crisis as the “white elephant in the room.”


“No one, not one of you needs my advice on how you’re going to solve the state’s budget challenges, and thankfully for all of you, I’m not going to offer it this morning,” Murkowski said, adding that she views her job as doing what she can to bring stability for the state at a federal level.


Part of that, she said, centers on the replacement of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who died Saturday.


Murkowski told lawmakers there’s a lot on the line for Alaska in the selection of a new justice to replace Scalia.


“He’s probably best remembered for the Heller decision that holds the second amendment guarantees individuals the right to possess firearms,” Murkowski said. “That decision, folks, is now one vote away from being lost and there are many others among them.”


The senator recognized John Sturgeon in the audience, an Alaskan suing the federal government over land access rights, calling him one of her heroes.


“He stood up, he stood up to the government when he believed they were wrong, when he knew that they were wrong, when he knew that they were overstepping,” Murkowski said. “And he said if somebody doesn’t challenge it and challenge it all the way to dye top then we’re all going to continue to get run over.”


She said if the court makes the wrong decision in his case, in wake of the death of Justice Scalia, she would be prepared to “crack open” the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA).


Murkowski pointed to her strides in other battles, too, calling securing the future of the Eielson Air Force Base in Fairbanks a “sweet victory.” She said Alaska is a strategic region for national defense, and that the state is now getting national recognition.


“The rest of the country needs Alaska to provide for the nation’s defense,” said Murkowski. “We’re going to capitalize on that.”


The senator said her trip to Bethel and Oscarville with six U.S. senators helped in that effort.


“It’s a reality, we’re struggling with geography lessons with people at the highest level,” Murkowski said, mentioning that some of the senators asked if they would be able to drive back to Anchorage from Bethel if their meeting ran long.


Murkowski individually thanked legislators Sen. Lesil McGuire, Sen. Bill Wielechowski, Rep. Lyman Hoffman, Rep. Bryce Edgmon and Rep. Charisse Millet.


“So many of you have been working to drive the energy policy at the state level and I thank you for that,” Murkowksi said.


When it comes to the state’s unprecedented budget shortfall, Murkowski said she’s going to “keep her elbows off the scale.” She did remember back to 1999 when she was a freshman legislator, and the Legislature was seriously considering using the Permanent Fund’s earnings then as well.


“When I came in, we were sitting at $11 a barrel, and we thought it couldn’t go any lower and then it went down to $9,” Murkowski told reporters.


The public rejected using the fund’s earning in an advisory vote, but Murkowski said those days were different. Production was high, and has fallen dramatically since then.


“You can suffer through low oil prices if you have sufficient production,” Murkowski said. “Right now, we’re sitting with a pipeline that’s less than half full, and I’m working as hard as I possibly can everyday to make sure that there’s more to put in that pipe.”


The senator acknowledged the difficult task in front of the Legislature and the governor, adding that she trusts they’ll do the right thing.