Plan requires majority vote

Governors would need 50% to win

Posted: Monday, April 17, 2000

Gov. Tony Knowles and former Gov. Walter J. Hickel might never have been elected if a proposal that passed the Senate on Sunday was in place.

Senate Joint Resolution 40 is a proposed constitutional amendment that would require candidates for governor and lieutenant governor to receive more than 50 percent of the votes cast. Knowles, in his first gubernatorial win, and Hickel, in his second, pulled in less than half the ballots cast.

If no one received 50 percent plus one vote in the initial election, a runoff election would be held between the top two vote-getters, under the measure.

The resolution passed the Senate 14-6 on Sunday and was scheduled for a reconsideration vote today. It will still need to pass the House by a two-thirds majority and be approved by voters this fall for the change to take place.

Sen. Dave Donley, an Anchorage Republican who voted for the resolution, said he did so because under Alaska's constitution the governor has more power than governors in other states.

``It's really bad public policy to allow someone who cannot get even 30 or 40 percent, let alone the majority of the vote, to have such unusually strong powers,'' Donley said.

Juneau Sen. Kim Elton, a Democrat, voted against the measure. He said it's not needed, has had little debate in the Legislature and will create new problems if it's passed.

To allow time for the runoff process, the current version of the measure calls for the governor to take office the third Monday in February - more than a month after the Legislature convenes.

``I think it puts third parties at risk,'' he added, saying he doubted Hickel, elected in 1990, would have won a runoff election.

Currently, candidates for statewide office need only get more votes than the other candidates. If there are several candidates in the race, the winner may wind up with less than half.

If the rule had been in place in the past, it might have changed the outcome of most of the gubernatorial races since statehood. Only two governors - Knowles in 1998 and Bill Egan in 1970 and 1958 - have received more than half the votes.

Knowles, a Democrat, won 42 percent of the vote when elected to his first term in 1994. Hickel, a Republican who ran on the Alaskan Independence Party ticket, won with just 39 percent of the vote in 1990. He was also elected governor, as a Republican, in 1966.

Third parties in Alaska often pull votes away from the two major parties, making it a challenge to garner 50 percent of the votes.

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