Initiative sponsors say new law does not cancel out initiative

Posted: Tuesday, June 15, 2004

JUNEAU A group of Democrat lawmakers who want to prevent Alaska's governor from filling U.S. Senate vacancies asked Lt. Gov. Loren Leman on Monday to keep their initiative on the November ballot.

Leman, the Republican who will ultimately decide whether a new law on Senate vacancies is similar enough to void the initiative, already has said that it is.

But initiative sponsors said the new law still gives the governor the power to appoint a temporary replacement.

''The whole idea was to take that power away so that the people could be able to chose a replacement senator,'' said Peter Giannini, their attorney.

Leman spokesperson Annette Kreitzer said only that the lieutenant governor has seen the letter. Leman could make a decision as early as Wednesday, Kreitzer said.

The initiative sprang from Gov. Frank Murkowski's decision to appoint his daughter, Lisa, to his unexpired Senate seat in 2002.

Lisa Murkowski, who was a state representative at the time, now faces a throng of challengers, including former Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles, and continued mutterings of nepotism.

Democratic Reps. Eric Croft, Harry Crawford and David Guttenberg formed the group Trust the People and have been fighting for a year to get the measure on the ballot.

Their group collected more than 50,000 signatures and took the lieutenant governor to court to get the measure on the Nov. 2 ballot.

However, GOP lawmakers approved a new law earlier this year after it became clear the initiative would be before voters in November.

Under Alaska's constitution, the Legislature can void a ballot measure by passing a similar law.

The new law calls for a special election to be held between 60 and 90 days after a U.S. Senate vacancy occurs.

Previously, the governor could appoint a new senator if less than 2 1/2 years remained in the departing senator's term.

The law still allows the governor to appoint a temporary replacement who would serve until the special election is decided.

''And that gives them an advantage,'' said Rep. Harry Crawford, one of the sponsors. ''It gives them an advantage in raising money and name recognition and other things.''

Under the initiative, the seat would remain vacant until a special election is concluded.

Giannini said the initiative would remove Murkowski's power to appoint a Senate replacement for at least the remainder of his first term since the Legislature could not modify an initiative for at least two years.

But under the new law, he said, Murkowski could lose re-election in 2006 and still appoint himself to a vacant U.S. Senate seat before the end of his gubernatorial term.

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