Interior Department says Pruitt is ‘wrong’ about Jewell’s ‘get over it’ comment. Pruitt stands firm.

When Alaska state House Majority Leader Lance Pruitt traveled to Washington D.C. with a group of lawmakers from across the country, he had no idea that he would get into a high-profile spat with Sally Jewell, the secretary of the Interior Department, the federal agency that is basically the landlord to more than 60 percent of Alaska’s land.

“I never intended to get in any kind of war with a cabinet secretary,” Pruitt, who’s known for being cautious and even tempered, said in an interview on Saturday.

Ostensibly, the “war” is over whether or not Jewell said that she wished Alaska would “get over” pushing to get a gravel, potentially life-saving road through a slice of the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge on Alaska’s Aleutian chain. Pruitt said that was Jewell’s response after he asked her about the road during a White House meeting. According to Pruitt, Jewell said that there were more important things to focus on in the state, like drilling in the Arctic Ocean and in NPR-A.

Pruitt said that Jewell said, “I wish Alaskans would get over this one issue.”

A spokesperson for the agency categorically denied the statement.“Representative Pruitt’s characterization of the Secretary’s comments is factually wrong, plain and simple,” an unnamed department spokesperson told Politico Pro on Saturday morning.

Pruitt stands by what he heard her say. However, he wants to emphasize that the real ‘war’ is over the road itself and the fact that a federal agency has chosen to protect the birds in the refuge over the lives of the people who live in the area. “We can disagree about development, but these are people’s lives at stake here,” Pruitt said.

In December, Jewell denied the 10-mile road that would connect King Cove to an all-weather airport in another village that could be used in medical emergencies. Over the years, people have died because of the lack of access to the airport. The issue has been a point of simmering tension between Jewell and the state, particularly with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who, along with Sen. Mark Begich, voted to confirm Jewell. The state is now suing, and Murkowski has been peppering Jewell with letters and with questions about her decision.

Pruitt said that he was paying close attention and was taking notes as Jewell was talking. Her comment, and the overall tone of her answer, shocked him. “I was almost embarrassed,” he said. “I’m sitting there thinking, ‘Am I hearing this wrong? Is there something that I’m missing here?’”

Montana Majority Leader Art Wittich was at the same meeting. He said in an interview on Friday that overall, Jewell was gracious, educated and patient. However, the King Cove question seemed to rattle her, and her answer was not like the answers she gave on forest fires, say, or on fracking.

Wittich said that he didn’t remember specifically her saying “get over it,” but he said that the comment was in keeping with her attitude on the subject, which he described as “I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”

“A bunch of us in the room were surprised by her response,” Wittich said

Murkowski is standing by Pruitt. “I think that she backpedaled because I think she realizes how really improper her response was,” Murkowski said in an interview on Saturday. Besides, it’s in keeping with her attitude about the issue.

Before Jewell announced that she was rejecting the road, she called Murkowski and told her that she would address the needs of the residents. That was seven months ago. Since, there have been numerous medical emergencies in the village that have required Coast Guard evacuations, some of which have been dangerous. Residents have traveled to D.C. to implore Jewell to reconsider the issue, or to provide some sort of alternative. So far, Jewell hasn’t.

Jewell has “turned a blind eye and a deaf ear,” to the villagers, Murkowski said.

“If I had a chance to do it over knowing how she’s handled this and how she’s rejected the people of King Cove, I would not have voted for her confirmation,” Murkowski said.

Contact Amanda Coyne at


8 thoughts on “Interior Department says Pruitt is ‘wrong’ about Jewell’s ‘get over it’ comment. Pruitt stands firm.

  1. Meyer

    There’s been much made of the “incident” between Rep. Pruitt’s question and the DOI’s secretary’s response. The reality – who cares? This is little more than “he said – she said”. If Lance Pruitt was a real leader he would have stood up to the secretary. Instead, he was a shrinking violet, taking notes of what she did so that he could pander to the media. Some people stand up, fight for their state and lead, while others (namely Rep. Pruitt) tae notes and pander. Unfortunately, Pruitt is like many of his colleagues – – gutless wonders. They’re not leaders, they’re disappointments.

  2. A. Nani Moose

    I don’t want to start a war, but can anyone explain to me why King Cove deserves this treatment? Since I was a kid, I’ve always understood that when people live in far flung corners of this state, they do so largely at their own peril. No matter how small the road through Izembek might be, does this not set a precedent? Couldn’t every center of population make this argument, regardless of size?

  3. Debbie F.

    The statement released from the secretary’s office at DOI was callous, unprofessional and most likely dishonest. There were many better ways to handle the situation than the path this press staement took. Representative Pruitt stood up for Alaska and made many of us proud. He’s a young man with a future.

  4. J.R.Myers for Alaska Governor 2014

    Just landed in Juneau a little while ago from a week in D.C. – There’s plenty of arrogance to go around there. Definitely time for a NEW SENATOR from Alaska. I look forward to that race unfolding. Begich is toast, and must be replaced. He is considered a joke amongt his colleagues and hasn’t accomplished anything substantial. Alaska will need to flip the Senate away from the Democrats this year!

  5. Tom McGrath

    Pruitt is impressive in that he will stand up to a cabinet secretary, call her on decisions that effects Alaskans and not back down. It will be interesting to watch him mature in his legislative career.

  6. Anonymous

    It’s great to see Lance Pruitt mature and come out of our shell.
    A good decade of lawmaking and hopefully a straight path in Juneau and he could be governor.

  7. Robert

    I don’t know a lot about Representative Pruitt or his politics, however, I’d give him a high-five for standing up to Secretary Jewell and for Alaska.

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