Senate debating who picks whom

Posted: Friday, April 13, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- Some lawmakers are pushing legislation that could give U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski an opportunity to choose his own replacement should he run for governor of Alaska and win.

Current law requires the governor to assign a successor if a U.S. senator leaves office before his or her term is completed, if less than 30 months is left in the senator's term.

A bill moving through the state Senate and a similar measure drafted in the House would change that by requiring a five-day delay between the time the senator leaves office and when the governor names someone to the post.

The measure would ensure that ''the person who created the vacant seat would be able to name the replacement,'' Rep. Eldon Mulder, R-Anchorage, said recently.

There was concern among some lawmakers about whether the sitting governor, now Gov. Tony Knowles, would choose the person to fill Murkowski's post should Murkowski leave office, Mulder said.

In a March 27 memo to Mulder, Tamara Brandt Cook, director of the Legislature's Legal Services office, said the state constitution prohibits a governor from holding any United States office. Before the new governor takes office, she said, that person must first give up his or her U.S. Senate seat, ''thereby creating a vacancy that can be filled by appointment by the person who is governor at the moment the vacancy is created.''

''It appears that Gov. Knowles could make an appointment to take effect just as soon as the vacancy is created, no matter how close in time that is to the moment the oath is administered to the new governor,'' she wrote.

To address that situation Mulder had a bill drafted that requires a governor to wait five days before appointing a senator's successor.

Murkowski, a Republican, has not said he plans to run for governor, but he has expressed interest in the past and has often been mentioned by Republicans as a contender.

Dave Garman, Murkowski's chief of staff, said he does not think Murkowski or his staff is aware of the legislation.

Mulder said he does not plan to introduce the House bill because Sen. Dave Donley, R-Anchorage, has a measure with the same language in the Senate. It passed in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday and is scheduled for the Senate floor.

Donley said the five-day waiting period was intended to give Alaskans time to comment about filling the senate seat.

Bob King, Knowles' press secretary, said the motivation is clear: ''It's unadulterated partisan politics. It's just another attempt by this Legislature to restrict the power of the governor.''

Knowles is a Democrat, elected to a second term in 1998. The law was changed that year to stipulate that the replacement senator must be of the same political party as the outgoing senator.

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