Bill would let Murkowski picked successor if elected governor

Posted: Sunday, May 06, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- The state House approved a bill Friday that could have the effect of letting U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski choose his own successor if Murkowski is elected Alaska governor.

Under current state law if a senator resigns with less than 30 months left in his term the governor is to name his replacement.

Senate Bill 177 calls for a five-day waiting period between the time a senator leaves office and the time a governor replaces his appointment.

Democrats say that would have the effect of giving Murkowski, a Republican, time to take office as governor before his replacement was named and would prevent Gov. Tony Knowles, a Democrat who's in the last term, from picking the successor.

All this assumes that Murkowski decides to give up his Senate seat, runs for governor and is elected. Murkowski has not yet announced whether he plans to run for governor.

Democrats who opposed the bill made it clear Friday they don't believe Murkowski himself had anything to do with the bill's introduction.

''I have the utmost respect for him,'' said Rep. Ethan Berkowitz, D-Anchorage.

But they do believe it was introduced with the Murkowski scenario in mind.

''This is very narrowly tailored special interest legislation,'' Berkowitz said. ''It's very transparent what the intent of this is.''

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Dave Donley, R-Anchorage, has said he simply wanted to give the public more time to comment on the appointment of a new senator should one of Alaska's senators leave office early.

Rep. Pete Kott, R-Anchorage, repeated that argument on the floor Friday.

''The governor still retains that appointment power,'' Kott said. ''But what it does do is it ensures Alaskans a small opportunity to make recommendations on who they believe should be appointed.''

Berkowitz argued, though, that five days isn't adequate time for public comment, and if the Legislature truly wanted to involve the public it could have adopted an amendment he suggested Thursday -- to call a special election if a senator resigns with less than 30 months left in his term.

The bill passed 27-12, along minority-majority lines.

The measure has already passed the Senate, so it now goes to Gov. Tony Knowles. Knowles' spokesman Bob King said he doesn't know whether the governor would veto the bill.

Regardless of who would name a successor for either of Alaska's senators, the replacement would have to be a Republican. The law was changed in 1998 to specify that the successor must be of the same party as the person being replaced. The only question would be which Republican the governor named.

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