ANCHORAGE - The day after his decisive victory, Gov.-elect Frank Murkowski began the process of taking office.
The day started with a phone call from the Bush White House - at about 4 a.m. Alaska time - and then a conversation with Gov. Tony Knowles, a Democrat who is leaving office after eight years.
Murkowski, a Republican, said he and Knowles talked about the process of transitioning a new administration into place by Dec. 2 when he is sworn in.
Knowles described the conversation as "very cordial" and said the next governor has many challenges ahead of him. Murkowski defeated current Democrat Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer in Tuesday's statewide election, taking more than 56 percent of the vote.
Bridging a chronic budget shortfall that the state Department of Revenue said is expected to top $1 billion within his first term will be Murkowski's biggest challenge. But the more mundane task of operating a day-to-day state government is his most immediate job.
Murkowski will have to prepare an operating and capital budget within the first three weeks of taking office as well as appoint a cabinet and oversee the cleanup efforts from a 7.9 magnitude earthquake that struck Interior Alaska on Sunday.
In the meantime, Murkowski is packing his bags to return to Washington, D.C., this weekend for a lame-duck session where the Senate may take up an energy bill.
"The next 27 days are going to be full and they are going to be exciting," Murkowski said Wednesday, the day after being elected.
Jim Clark, a Juneau attorney and timber industry lobbyist who has handled Murkowski's personal finances, was appointed to head the transition team. Clark said he will announce the rest of the team as early as next week. Murkowski also named John Manley, a former spokesman for Gov. Walter Hickel, as press liaison for the transition.
As with past governors, Murkowski and his staff will hit the books to learn about the pragmatic tasks of overseeing state government. The Knowles administration is preparing lengthy documents that detail the state's finances and various issues and deadlines facing a new administration.
Knowles Chief of Staff David Ramseur will take charge of the current governor's transition team, Knowles said. Ramseur is expected to meet with Clark within days to discuss the process. Management and Budget Director Annalee McConnell, Knowles chief budget writer, and Administration Commissioner Jim Duncan will be part of the team, Ramseur said.
It is unclear who Murkowski will appoint to his transition team. Clark has consulted with lobbyist Jerry Reinwand - who served on former Gov. Jay Hammond's transition team - and others who have gone through the process.
He also has consulted with Murkowski campaign manager and confidante Gregg Renkes and Tony Motley, who was a former Commerce commissioner and Republican operative.
Within five days of taking office Murkowski will pick a successor to fill out the remaining two years of his U.S. Senate term. In the past Murkowski has said his replacement will have to be young enough to accumulate seniority and be able to win re-election in two years.
It has been widely rumored that Knowles will seek a U.S. Senate seat in two years.
Murkowski said Wednesday he has given little consideration to his pick prior to the election and was not sure when he would make the final decision. The next governor also will inherit a seemingly intractable dispute among the 60-member Legislature about how to regain control of subsistence management on federal lands, which makes up two-thirds of the state's land mass.
Alaska Natives and non-Natives living in the rural areas depend on fish and game that they harvest. State government oversight of that practice on federal lands was stripped when the Legislature failed to pass a constitutional amendment to comply with federal law.
Murkowski supports putting a constitutional amendment before voters granting a rural preference, but also wants changes in the federal law. The GOP-controlled Legislature has been unable to muster the two-thirds support to put such an amendment on the ballot.
Regaining state control of subsistence will be a legislative priority, Murkowski said. But he would not say whether he would introduce such a bill in the first year of his administration.
Lt. Gov.-elect Loren Leman will meet with legislative leaders after the GOP caucuses in the House and Senate pick their leaders, which is expected to happen this week.
Democrats picked up seats in the Legislature but the Republicans held control of both houses.
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