Bill would prevent governor from naming senator

Posted: Sunday, February 02, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) -- Democrats want Alaska's next vacancy in the U.S. Senate to be filled by the voters instead of the governor.

A bill introduced on Friday would change the law that allows a governor to appoint a replacement if a U.S. senator leaves office with less than 30 months left in his term. It is co-sponsored by every Democrat in the state senate.

An identical bill was introduced in the House last week by Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, D-Anchorage.

The current law allowed Republican Gov. Frank Murkowski to name his replacement when he resigned from the U.S. Senate last year after winning the governor's race. Murkowski chose his daughter, former state Rep. Lisa Murkowski, R-Anchorage, to replace him.

The appointment angered some Alaskans, who argued it amounted to nepotism.

Sen. Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, said the bill is not directed personally at Lisa Murkowski, but is a response to public frustration about the law that allowed Murkowski to pick his daughter.

''I think reasonable people would agree that a statewide vote would avoid a lot of this controversy,'' Ellis said. ''That's as neutral as it gets in our system.''

The bill calls for a special election to be held within 90 days of a U.S. senate vacancy occurring.

House Speaker Pete Kott, R-Eagle River, said he didn't know all the pros and cons of the bill. But he said it might receive hearings in the House this year.

''I think it's probably a worthy piece of legislation that deserves some attention,'' Kott said. ''I guess as long as we don't go back retroactively, it would be just fine.''

Berkowitz said he tried twice before without success to change the law. Vacancies in the U.S. Congress already are to be filled through a special election, he said.

Berkowitz and Ellis said if the measure doesn't make it through the Legislature, it may be pushed as a citizens' initiative.

''I think there's probably enough resentment and hard feelings out there in the public that I bet the votes and the signatures would be easy to get to put this on the ballot,'' Ellis said.

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