Judge tosses recall effort against Sen. Ben Stevens

Court rules petition lacked sufficient evidence to remove senator from office

Posted: Friday, January 06, 2006

ANCHORAGE - The attempt to recall state Sen. Ben Stevens has been blocked again, this time in court.

Superior Court Judge Craig Stowers ruled Wednesday that the Division of Elections was right to toss out a petition aimed at the state Senate president, an Anchorage Republican.

Stowers listened to more than an hour of oral arguments and ruled from the bench.

He said a recall petition by Citizens for Ethical Government failed to cite specific, legally sufficient reasons why Stevens should be removed from office.

The petition was drafted by Republican Moderate Party founder and former legislator Ray Metcalfe.

He contends that Stevens' job as a consultant for the oil field service company Veco Inc. improperly affected his performance as a state legislator and amounts to corruption.

Stevens was paid $195,000 in Veco's employ, the petition said. It claimed the senator "contracted his advice and loyalty to a company seeking to extract Alaska's resources for as little as possible."

In court, attorneys for the Elections Division and Stevens said the drafters of the Alaska Constitution envisioned a "citizen legislature" populated by lawmakers who would have to work for a living outside their public office.

Nothing in the constitution or state law bars an elected official from working for an employer, even one active in political affairs and issues such as Veco, they said.

Stowers agreed.

"Those are public policy issues," the judge said.

"It is not for the court ... to sit here and make (a determination) as to whether it's appropriate for legislators" to work for politically involved employers. The responsibility for defining appropriate conduct for lawmakers lies with the Legislature, he said.

Under Alaska law, grounds for recall are lack of fitness for office, incompetence, neglect of duties and corruption.

The judge said the petition did not cite any legislation Stevens sponsored, or voted for, that would support the claims that he is corrupt or unfit for office.

It "does not allege conduct which is legally sufficient" to carry the recall forward, he said.

Stevens had no comment after the 90-minute proceeding.

"No," he said. "The court speaks for itself."

Metcalfe said he planned to continue his drive to oust Stevens from office.

"We may draft a new petition. We may go to the (state) Supreme Court," he said. "We may do both."

Metcalfe said new revelations about Stevens' business connections to the fishing industry are additional reasons why he should be removed from office.

"The information available to us today is 100-fold what it was when we wrote that petition," he said.

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