Senator favors filling vacancies by appointment

Knowles is among those who oppose the system; issue will appear before voters on Nov. 2 ballot

Posted: Thursday, October 21, 2004

ANCHORAGE - Alaska's governor should retain the power to make appointments to fill U.S. Senate vacancies, Sen. Lisa Murkowski said in a letter to the group that sponsored an initiative on the Nov. 2 ballot that seeks to abolish appointments.

The measure, which would require vacancies be filled by special election, was prompted by the 2002 appointment of Murkowski, R-Alaska, by her father after he was elected governor and vacated the Senate seat. Since then, charges of nepotism have hounded Murkowski, who is in a tight race against former Gov. Tony Knowles.

Gov. Frank Murkowski was able to make the appointment because the Republican-dominated Legislature changed the law to let the new GOP governor fill Senate vacancies instead of the outgoing Democrat: Knowles.

"I support Alaskans voting to fill a vacancy in our U.S. Senate delegation, but believe that the language adopted by the Legislature is a much better approach than that provided by the initiative," Lisa Murkowski wrote in an Oct. 14 letter to Peggy Wilcox, manager of the Trust the People campaign, which sponsored the initiative.

Wilcox accused Murkowski of denying Alaskans their constitutional right to vote and said the senator was among state legislators who approved the appointment law. Murkowski was appointed during her third term in the state House.

"If she says the Legislature's approach is better, that's an outright statement of opposition," Wilcox said. "There are good arguments to made for a monarchy, but we operate as a democracy here."

Knowles is among the opponents of the present system, said spokesman Matt McKenna.

"Tony Knowles and 50,000 other Alaskans signed the ballot initiative petition and he plans to vote for it in November," McKenna said. "It's a Murkowski family tradition to not trust the people, and I'm not surprised she wants to keep this all in the family."

The measure seeks to abolish U.S. Senate vacancy appointments entirely and require that vacancies be filled by special election.

In her letter, Murkowski said appointments can be made much more quickly than the 60 to 90 days it might take to hold a special election. It's a "terrible idea" to go so long without full representation in a state that's as heavily controlled by the federal government as Alaska, she wrote.

"The lack of an Alaska senator even for a few weeks in a closely divided Senate might make it possible for opponents to push legislation through the budget process that could, say, close the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to development forever, or limit the state's ability to build a gas line or harvest our fishery resources," Murkowski wrote.

The senator was not available Wednesday, but spokesman Elliott Bundy said her opposition to the measure is based on her concerns about Alaskans going so long without representation in Washington, D.C.

"The lack of a single vote, even for a short time, could result in disastrous legislation for Alaska," Bundy said.

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