The state Senate has approved a bill that could have the effect of letting U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski choose his own successor if the Alaska Republican runs for and is elected governor.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Dave Donley, an Anchorage Republican, said that's not why he introduced Senate Bill 166. But Democrats in the Senate said it's clearly a partisan measure.
Murkowski, a Republican, has not said he plans to run for governor, but he has expressed interest in the past and has often been mentioned by Republicans as a contender.
Current law requires the governor to name a successor if a U.S. senator leaves office before his or her term is completed. Senate Bill 177 would require a five-day delay between the time the senator leaves office and when the governor names someone to the post.
Rep. Eldon Mulder, an Anchorage Republican, said earlier this month there was concern among some lawmakers about whether the sitting governor, now Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles, would choose the person to fill Murkowski's post should Murkowski leave office.
In a March 27 memo to Mulder, Tamara Brandt Cook, director of the Legislature's Legal Services office, said the state constitution prohibits a governor from holding any United States office. Before the new governor takes office, she said, that person must first give up his or her U.S. Senate seat, "thereby creating a vacancy that can be filled by appointment by the person who is governor at the moment the vacancy is created."
"It appears that Gov. Knowles could make an appointment to take effect just as soon as the vacancy is created, no matter how close in time that is to the moment the oath is administered to the new governor," she wrote.
To address that situation Mulder had a bill drafted that requires a governor to wait five days before appointing a senator's successor. He said he didn't introduce the bill because Donley had introduced his bill in the Senate.
But Donley said he introduced the bill simply to give the public time to comment before a successor is named.
"I think five days is the minimum amount of time you might want," Donley said.
Sen. Kim Elton, a Juneau Democrat, said the measure is about more than public comment periods.
"This is one of the most partisan issues there can be," Elton said.
The law already requires that a replacement senator must be of the same political party as the outgoing senator, but Elton said he assumes the Republican-dominated Senate doesn't want Knowles to pick which Republican would replace Murkowski. He assumes
they fear the governor would pick a moderate Republican for the seat.