July 6 Anchorage Daily News on replacing state Sen. Drue Pearce

Posted: Tuesday, July 10, 2001

Four quality names went to Gov. Tony Knowles Monday after Republican Party members from South Anchorage met to consider a replacement for resigned Sen. Drue Pearce. No doubt the political jockeying will be intense until the governor makes his decision in the next two weeks.

At some level all four candidates meet the core criteria for the job -- statesmanship, moderation and ability.

Ben Stevens, if he has even a fraction of the political talents of his father, U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, could go a long way in Alaska politics.

Nancy Bear Usera combines private-sector competence and high-level government experience as former Gov. Walter Hickel's chief of staff.

State Rep. Norm Rokeberg tackled one of Alaska's political sacred cows by proposing to roll back automatic contributions to the Alaska Permanent Fund to constitutional levels.

And Rep. Andrew Halcro has helped coalesce study of Alaska's fiscal futures and understanding of urban-rural relations.

Each has worthy talents and experience. That suggests the governor look to two further criteria in making his choice: perspective on the key issues of subsistence and fiscal planning, and potential for future leadership in a stalemated Senate.

The governor is currently mulling a difficult decision whether to continue the state's appeal of the Katie John subsistence case. He's under pressure from all sides. But whatever his decision there, Alaska needs not only a ''yes'' vote for putting a subsistence amendment on the state ballot for voters to decide, but also a real advocate for justice and understanding in the ensuing campaign.

The Alaska Legislature has gone a decade now without seriously addressing the state's structural budget gap -- and only a few years remain before we'll have stripped our savings to cover a growing shortfall. The greatest need in solving the problem is for leaders who will talk straight with the voters and stop evading the problem. The sooner they do, the easier the solution will be. The governor ought to be stiff-backed on this point: Nobody gets this appointment who won't face the fiscal problem squarely and aggressively.

Finally, there is the question of future potential. The Alaska Legislature is going through a tectonic shift of perspective and agenda. Some of it is generational, as younger players move into the picture. Some of it is ideological and issue-oriented, as the demands of a changing future make themselves apparent. In making his decision, the governor should appoint someone with the capacity to continue and even accelerate the change.

There are reasons why voters are so dissatisfied with the present stalemate. The governor should appoint someone who gives hope for improvements in the future. -

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