Gov. Murkowski appoints daughter to fill Senate seat

Posted: Sunday, December 22, 2002

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) -- Saying it was time for the next generation of Alaskans to start building seniority in Congress, Gov. Frank Murkowski Friday appointed his daughter to succeed him in the U.S. Senate.

''Above all, I felt the person I appoint to the remaining two years of my term should be someone who shares my basic philosophy, my values, but particularly one who shares on the issues of Alaska matters that are before us. Someone whose judgment I trust in representing the state and all of its people,'' Murkowski said in naming his daughter, Lisa, to the seat he held for 22 years.

Lisa Murkowski, 45, is a Republican state representative from Anchorage who was re-elected last month to a third term and chosen as House Majority leader.

Her pick as U.S. Senator immediately prompted mutterings of nepotism among Republicans, which Gov. Murkowski said he anticipated. But his daughter's own House GOP caucus decision to tap her for a leadership role provided him an objective measure of her abilities, the governor said.

''I feel very strongly that she has proven herself,'' Murkowski told reporters.

Frank Murkowski, who resigned his Senate seat before taking office Dec. 2, was allowed to pick his own successor due to a law passed last year by the GOP-controlled Legislature.

At a news conference Friday in Anchorage, Gov. Murkowski emphasized that his decision was not made casually. He whittled his list of potential candidates down from 26 to 11 and conducted interviews after taking office, he said.

''In some ways, this is probably one of the most important decisions I will make as your governor,'' Murkowski said.

Murkowski said he wanted to choose someone with legislative experience who could get things done in Washington, D.C. and establish their own identity in the U.S Senate.

Following her father's announcement, Lisa Murkowski called her appointment an incredible and awesome responsibility.

''We have a great deal in common besides sharing a name,'' she said. ''We share the same vision for the state. We share the same values.''

Lisa Murkowski is a lawyer and former attorney for the Anchorage District Court. She and her husband, Verne Martell, have two sons.

She will begin the job with strong name recognition but with a voting record in the Legislature that has invited criticism from the Party's conservative ranks.

Lisa Murkowski built a reputation as being a moderate and a maverick who would push GOP leaders to tackle thorny issues such as a budget shortfall projected to top $1 billion by 2004.

Last session, Rep. Murkowski successfully sponsored an alcohol tax increase and was a key member of a bipartisan caucus proposing new taxes and revenue measures.

In August, she narrowly won the GOP primary in a new legislative district over conservative challenger Nancy Dahlstrom while other allies either retired or lost to primary challengers.

On Friday, she sought to downplay the perception of her as a moderate and said she is ''right in alignment'' with her more conservative father on core issues.

Frank Murkowski's U.S. Senate voting record earned perfect scores from the National Right to Life Committee, the Christian Coalition and the National Rifle Association. In the Legislature, Lisa Murkowski voted against a bill to limit state funding for abortions.

But both Murkowskis support opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration and the drive for a North Slope gas pipeline to the Lower 48.

On national politics, Lisa Murkowski said she was undecided on whether to back Tennessee Sen. Bill Frist as the next majority leader. Embattled Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott stepped down Friday amid criticism for making a racially insensitive comment.

Lisa Murkowski was sworn in during a ceremony by federal appellate Judge Andrew Kleinfeld. Her state House replacement will be chosen by the governor, in accordance with state law.

In the wake of her appointment, much of the official Republican comment has praised the pick. ''This is the beginning of the new Stevens, Young and Murkowski team,'' said state Republican Party Chairman Randy Ruedrich.

Alaska Congressman Don Young said Lisa Murkowski will be an outstanding senator for years to come and Sen. Ted Stevens pledged his support.

''Don and I will work with her to help her do the best job possible in Washington,'' Stevens told the Associated Press in a telephone interview.

But not everyone in Alaska is gushing about the announcement. Republican union leader Jerry Hood, who was passed over for the pick, said his telephone ''is ringing off the hook.'' Hood would not elaborate.

The state Republican Party has been dogged by infighting among its factions in previous elections. The most notable recent example came in 1994 when Democrat Tony Knowles won his first gubernatorial bid after Republican Jack Coghill ran on another party's ticket.

''Certainly he will be criticized by some for picking his daughter,'' said Jerry Mackie, a former lawmaker who interviewed for the appointment. ''But the Republican Party needs to have a big tent and needs to be inclusive rather than exclusive.''

The lengthy list of prominent Republicans passed over for the job -- including Alaska Railroad board chairman Johne Binkley -- makes a GOP primary challenge likely.

''Those people are still out there. I think you will have a good, exciting and interesting primary two years from now,'' said retiring state Sen. Pete Kelly, a conservative Republican from Fairbanks.

Democrats, too, are virtually assured of mounting a strong challenge for Murkowski's seat in 2004, said former Gov. Knowles, who himself is seen as a possible candidate.

While in office, Knowles vetoed a bill to create a 5-day waiting period before the governor picks a U.S. Senate replacement. That veto was overriden by the GOP-controlled Legislature.

On Friday, Knowles said the vacancy should have been filled by a special election to give voters a chance to consider Lisa Murkowski's qualifications.

''I don't think anyone knows her feelings on any federal issues and how she presents Alaska's case federally,'' Knowles said.

Knowles would not say who he would have selected and refused to say whether he would run. ''It's an open question,'' he said.

Lisa Murkowski said she is independent-minded but acknowledged that her role for the next two years will be to bridge differences among Alaskans. She said she expects to face a challenge for the seat in 2004, but would not speculate on how conservatives will react.

''I'm not convinced they're all out to get me,'' she said.


Associated Press writer Rachel D'Oro contributed to this report.

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