ANCHORAGE - Alaska is in line to see substantial gains from the Republican takeover of the Senate, following Tuesday's elections.
The change restores Sen. Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican, to chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee and it gives advocates of oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge what may be their best opportunity to open the refuge to drilling.
Because of Alaska Republican Sen. Frank Murkowski's victory in the gubernatorial race, he will resign his seat in December - and his opportunity to reclaim the gavel from Democratic chairman Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico. Instead, Murkowski will appoint a fellow Republican to fill the remaining two years of his Senate term, and that person will be at the bottom of the Senate seniority ladder.
U.S. Rep. Don Young, an Alaska Republican, was easily re-elected Tuesday. He returns in a senior leadership role, continuing as the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, where he will direct the production of massive highway and water project bills. Young, who turns 70 next year, will be in his 16th term.
Sen. Stevens, who turns 79 on Nov. 18, will be the most senior Republican in the Senate because of the retirement of Sen. Strom Thurmond, a South Carolina Republican. That distinction makes Stevens the Senate president pro tempore, who presides over the Senate - or, more typically, assigns that task to others on a rotation.
Stevens will have other tasks with his new title. The Senate president pro tempore is an ex officio member of the Republican Policy Committee, appoints members of various national commissions, names the director of the Congressional Budget Office and, in the absence of the vice president, can sign legislation.