Murkowski was born in Seattle, Washington, the son of Helen (née Hughes) and Frank M. Murkowski. His paternal grandfather was of Polish descent. Murkowski attended Ketchikan High School in Alaska, graduating in 1951. Studying at Santa Clara University from 1951 to 1953, he gained a BS in economics from Seattle University in 1955. Thereafter, he served in the United States Coast Guard until 1957 – the same year his daughter Lisa was born. After a stint at Pacific National Bank and further study at Pacific Coast Banking School, Murkowski became Alaska's youngest commissioner at the time when he was appointed Commissioner of Economic Development, aged 33, and was elevated to the presidency of the Alaska National Bank of the North in 1971. He has also headed the Alaska Bankers Association and – in 1977 - the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce.
He ran for Alaska's sole U.S. House seat in 1970, but was defeated by Democrat Nick Begich.
He was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1980, defeating Democratic candidate Clark Gruening, with the help of Ronald Reagan's popularity. He won with 54% of the vote. He was re-elected in 1986, 1992, and 1998. During his time in the Senate, he was most notable as Chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee from 1995 to 2001. As chair, he argued and attempted unsuccessfully to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.
Murkowski had a pro-life record in the Senate, opposing abortion. He also opposes gun control and affirmative action.
In a floor statement in the Senate, regarding the ban of homosexuals serving in the military, Murkowski stated that homosexuals have a right to choose their lifestyle, but there exists no right to serve. In his opposition to lifting the ban, his speech focused on the cost effect on the Veterans Administration in treating service members infected with HIV. His daughter and successor in the Senate, Lisa Murkowski, voted to repeal the ban on homosexuals in the armed services, and later became the third Republican Senator to endorse the legalization of same-sex marriage while in office.
Murkowski was elected governor on November 5, 2002, receiving nearly 56% of the vote, the highest percentage for any gubernatorial candidate in Alaska history up until that point. He succeeded Democrat Tony Knowles and took office on December 2, 2002.
Upon his inauguration, he resigned his Senate seat and appointed his daughter, Lisa Murkowski, the Majority Leader-designate of the Alaska House of Representatives, in his place. His opponents derided the appointment as an act of nepotism.
Toward the end of his administration he brokered a deal for a gas pipeline that was never considered, in final form, by the legislature. Murkowski threatened to sign the deal without legislative approval, but the legislature successfully brought a lawsuit to enjoin him from doing so.
Governor Murkowski ran for re-election in 2006, but came in third behind former Wasilla mayor Sarah Palin and Fairbanks businessman John Binkley in the Republican primary election on August 22, 2006 (Palin winning with 51% and Binkley taking second with 30% to Murkowski's 19%). Murkowski left office with one of the nation's worst approval ratings of 19%.
On March 4, 2008, Murkowski's former chief-of-staff, Jim Clark admitted that he was aware that Veco Corp had paid $10,000 for a political poll to gauge the popularity of then-incumbent Governor Murkowski. Clark was charged with "honest services fraud". Before he was sentenced, the US Supreme Court ruled that the statute was drafted with unconstitutional vagueness and henceforth will only cover "fraudulent schemes to deprive another of honest services through bribes or kickbacks supplied by a third party who ha[s] not been deceived." Since Clark was guilty of neither bribes nor kickbacks, all charges were voided.
In all 28 years of public service, Murkowski spent two years in the armed services, 22 years as Alaska's junior senator in D.C. and four years as governor.
In 2005, in spite of opposition from the Alaska Legislature, Murkowski purchased a Westwind II jet with state money for $2.7 million. This purchase became the symbol of his unpopular legacy in state politics, so much so that his successor, Sarah Palin, promised to sell the jet once she became governor.United States House of Representatives election in Alaska, 1970
Nick Begich (D), 55%
Frank Murkowski (R), 45%
United States Senate election in Alaska, 1980
Frank Murkowski (R), 54%
Clark Gruening (D), 46%
United States Senate election in Alaska, 1986
Frank Murkowski (R) (inc.), 54%
Glenn Olds (D), 44%
United States Senate election in Alaska, 1992
Frank Murkowski (R) (inc.), 53%
Tony Smith (D), 38%
Mary Jordan (Grn.), 8%
United States Senate election in Alaska, 1998
Frank Murkowski (R) (inc.), 75%
Joe Sonneman (D), 20%
Alaska gubernatorial election, 2002
Frank Murkowski (R), 56%
Fran Ulmer (D), 41%
Alaska gubernatorial election, 2006 (primary)
Sarah Palin (R), 51%
John Binkley (R), 30%
Frank Murkowski (R) (incumbent), 19%