Group mounts effort to recall Murkowski

Governor's spokesman says initiative backers have no legal grounds for a recall

Posted: Friday, October 10, 2003

Following the success of the California recall, Alaskans in Anchorage, Fairbanks and the Kenai Peninsula are meeting this weekend in Talkeetna to craft language for a ballot initiative to recall Gov. Frank Murkowski.

Soren Wuerth, 38, a former chairman for the Alaska Green Party and an Anchorage activist who has worked on various initiatives for more than a decade, called Murkowski morally bankrupt for policy decisions he's made since taking office last year.

Murkowski spokesman John Manly said the group has no legal grounds for recalling the governor.

"It sounds to me like it's a group of people who are dissatisfied with the way Gov. Murkowski is going about governing the state," Manly said. "Any time a leader takes the initiative and shows some leadership, somebody is not going to like it."

Wuerth said a group of 12 citizens from the three communities will meet to put the final touches on language for a ballot initiative.

"We have several lawyers who are working with us already in framing this language, so watch out," Wuerth said.

Wuerth listed Murkowski's elimination of Longevity Bonus payments to seniors and his decision to appoint his daughter Lisa Murkowski to his vacated U.S. Senate seat last year as two reasons to recall the governor.

If Murkowski were recalled, Lt. Gov. Loren Leman would replace him as governor.

According to the Alaska Constitution, the grounds for recall of an elected official are lack of fitness, incompetence, neglect of duties or corruption.

"Neglect of duties is sort of what we're after here," Wuerth said.

Manly scoffed at the charge that Murkowski has neglected his duties as chief executive of the state.

"You can't just throw out that the governor is incompetent," Manly said. "You have to prove that he's incompetent. You have to prove that he's neglected his duties. I think in order to make this thing have legs, you have to come up with some clear examples of where that happened."

Former state Rep. Niilo Koponen of Fairbanks, who served as a Democrat from 1982-92, said he supports the recall and has submitted proposed language for the recall petition.

The petition language stating the reason for a recall must be under 200 words, Koponen said.

"So many people are mad at Murkowski for so many reasons they're having trouble coming to an agreement on 200 words," Koponen said.

Republican Moderate Party Chairman Ray Metcalfe said he plans to attend the meeting in Talkeetna but referred to himself as a "reluctant follower" of the recall effort, adding that his level of involvement is dependent on the petition language.

Metcalfe of Anchorage said he would not support petition language that uses Murkowski's appointment of his daughter Lisa as a reason to recall.

"I'm not willing to point the finger at Lisa," Metcalfe said, noting that a final decision on the language could split different factions involved in the effort. "You might see two different groups going in two different directions."

Laura Glaiser, director of the state Division of Elections, said that to get the recall petition certified, initiative sponsors must collect signatures from 10 percent of the number of voters in the most recent statewide election. Glaiser said 231,484 people voted in the most recent gubernatorial election.

To get the measure on the ballot, sponsors also would have to collect signatures from 25 percent of the number of voters in that election. That means they would have to collect 57,871 signatures.

• Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at

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