In talking to Alaska native Karen Knutson, the conversation naturally turns to the topics of igloos and dog sleds. [IMGCAP(1)]
“No igloos,” she says of her home state. “But they have great dog sled races.”
“Yes! Alaska is a fun, active state.”
Knutson would know. With a hometown of Ketchikan — an island community in southern Alaska — an undergraduate degree from University of Alaska at Fairbanks and a history of public service to the Last Frontier, she’s set to take over as chief of staff to Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) in August.
She may be the biggest state’s biggest fan.
“It’s just a very special place,” she insists.
But isn’t it freezing?
“You just have to have the right gear,” she insists. “Put on enough clothes, and you can get as warm as you want. In D.C., there’s no choice. You’re hot all the time.” [IMGCAP(2)]
Being from Florida, Hill Climbers is skeptical. But if anyone is going to chill an attitude toward the cold, Knutson is the gal to do it. This blond, bubbly mother of two is well-versed in the virtues of a town whose hottest average summer temperature is 58 degrees.
“I sail. I ski. I fly.”
“Well, I used to.”
But her favorite activity is fishing.
“The fishing there is just incredible. You have to go.”
A conversation on Knutson’s love of cooking the catch is reminiscent of Bubba explaining how to cook shrimp in the movie “Forrest Gump.”
“I have eight cookbooks on how to cook fish,” she says. “The best way to do it is with a little beer and brown sugar.”
The conversation turns to politics.
“It’s a natural fit for me,” she says of her new position with Murkowski. “I spent a lot of time in government.”
She has. Knutson started her life in Washington, D.C., as legislative assistant for Murkowski’s father, then-Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska), who’s now the state’s governor. Her service continued as appropriations counsel for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas). She also worked as legislative director to Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and deputy assistant to Vice President Cheney for domestic policy before a short stint as vice president of government relations at ML Strategies, a D.C. lobbying firm.
Knutson, who earned a law degree from Wake Forest University in 1994, currently works as the vice president of the Business Software Alliance, a firm best known for its policing of illegal Internet downloads. When asked, she is direct about her company’s objectives.
“You don’t want people stealing your software,” she says.
To those who don’t see the activity as stealing, Knutson says: “You create for creativity sake, but at some point you have to put bread and butter on the table and shoes on your kids’ feet.”
She’s passionate about her current position, but she can’t wait for her new job to start. Knutson is looking forward to helping Murkowski craft education, health and energy policy. She thinks the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge should be opened to drilling.
“There’s nothing like Washington, D.C., if you want to do policy.”
And she’s keen on taking a bipartisan approach when working with Murkowski.
“Issues that impact constituents are more important than political labels,” she says. “Lisa works hard to represent all Alaskans and I will do the same.”
For this interview, Knutson is fresh off a red-eye trip from Alaska, during which she didn’t sleep to make sure her children Matthew, 4, and Ingrid, 1, didn’t fall off the plane seats. She returned to her home in Arlington, where she lives with her children and husband, a lobbyist for Home Depot.
As evidenced by this latest trip, it’s clear that her life in the District does not preclude her attachment to her home state. When she talks about Alaska, and Alaskans, her cheeks start to blush like she just walked in from the cold.
“It’s such an honor,” she says. “I’m serving a Senator I respect, and serving a state I love.”
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