Senate might have final say if Stevens is convicted in trial

No sitting senator removed since 1862

Posted: Friday, August 29, 2008

ANCHORAGE - If Ted Stevens is convicted in his federal trial next month, his name will still appear as the Republican candidate for Senate on Alaska's November election ballot.

And if the 84-year-old Stevens then wins his seventh full term and refuses to resign, it could fall to his colleagues to decide whether he should be expelled.

"Once the jury has rendered a verdict, the Senate has a constitutional right to consider the qualifications of the member," said Don Ritchie, an associate Senate historian.

It would take a two-thirds vote of the Senate to expel Stevens.

No sitting senator has been removed in 146 years. The last was Indiana Sen. Jesse Bright in 1862.

Others facing expulsion, such as Oregon Sen. Bob Packwood in 1995, resigned before the Senate took a vote.

Stevens, whose trial starts Sept. 22 in Washington, D.C., said it won't come anywhere near that.

He will not discuss stepping down, withdrawing from the race or quitting the Senate. His plans are simply to first win in court, and then at the polls.

"Put this down: That will never happen - ever, OK?" Stevens said. "I am not stepping down. I'm going to run through and I'm going to win this election.

"The court case is going to go on. Whether it's finished or not, I'm still going to run for re-election, OK?"

Federal prosecutors allege Stevens failed to disclose more than $250,000 in home renovations and gifts from executives at oil services contractor VECO Corp.

Stevens, the Senate's longest-serving Republican, has pleaded not guilty.

Ritchie said fellow senators usually do not intervene while elections or court cases are pending.

"They've always waited until the legal process is complete and voters had their say," he said. "Once they're elected, the only judge of qualifications to serve is the U.S. Senate."

Stevens satisfied voters from his party Tuesday, capturing 63 percent of the vote and defeating six opponents.

After winning his primary, Stevens quickly proclaimed the Nov. 4 election a "piece of cake."

Stevens faces a staunch opponent in November, Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, who is popular and has the backing of the national Democratic party.

Begich will seemingly have the state to himself to campaign while Stevens is on trial in late September and early October.

Begich in the campaign so far has avoided calling attention to the corruption charges, saying he believes Alaskans will vote for him, not necessarily against Stevens.

"What people want to talk about are issues of energy, of health care and of taxes. That's where I'm going to go," Begich said.

Stevens has attempted to paint Begich as a liberal aligning with interest outside the state, including "extreme environmentalists."

If Stevens is re-elected after a conviction but then resigns from the Senate or is expelled, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin would be required to call a special election.

That's a relatively new provision in state law, driven when former U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski won the gubernatorial race in 2002 and then appointed his daughter, Lisa Murkowski, to his seat.

Alaska residents were upset with what they saw as nepotism. A voter initiative ended gubernatorial appointments to vacancies in 2004, the same year Murkowski successfully won her first full term in the Senate by defeating former Gov. Tony Knowles.

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