Republican majority approves Ben Stevens to fill Pearce's seat

Posted: Tuesday, August 07, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- The Republican majority in the state Senate has approved the appointment of Ben Stevens to fill the seat vacated by former Sen. Drue Pearce.

Stevens, 42, has worked as a commercial fisherman and a lobbyist and headed the 2001 Special Olympics World Winter Games Alaska. He is the youngest son of U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens.

''It's a unique opportunity to do this,'' Stevens said following the decision made during a closed meeting at a hotel in Anchorage.

Senate President Rick Halford was expected to swear in Stevens during a private ceremony on Tuesday.

While the Republican majority unanimously agreed on Stevens, it could not agree on who should replace Pearce as chair of the Senate Rules Committee. Filling that job would result in a lot of shuffling in other committees.

''We just didn't get it done today,'' said Senate Majority Leader Loren Leman, R-Anchorage.

Pearce, who represented south Anchorage, resigned June 18 to take a job in Washington, D.C., as Interior Secretary Gale Norton's senior adviser for Alaska. Her departure left a number of committee seats open. Besides Rules, she was vice chair of Resources and a member of State Affairs and the Committee on Committees. She also served on the joint Armed Services Committee and the Legislative Council and was an alternate on the joint Ethics Committee.

The state Republican Party submitted the names of four candidates for the job: Stevens, Reps. Andrew Halcro and Norm Rokeberg, and Nancy Bear Usera, a credit union executive and former state commissioner.

Gov. Tony Knowles, a Democrat, had the option of choosing from that list or picking his own. The appointment was subject to the approval of the Senate majority.

House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz said he likes Stevens but wanted Knowles to pick Halcro, a moderate Anchorage Republican known for speaking his mind regardless of the majority's position.

''This is a very fractured Legislature right now,'' said Berkowitz, D-Anchorage. ''There was an opportunity to be more creative, drive a bigger wedge or change the dynamic.''

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