Gov. Frank Murkowski today appointed his daughter Lisa Murkowski to succeed him as Alaska's junior U.S. senator.
The appointment was made official after Lisa Murkowski was sworn in at noon in Anchorage.
The announcement was met with some skepticism about the month-long interview process the elder Murkowski held with some 26 potential replacements.
Standing next to his daughter at the Governor's Conference Room at the Atwood Building in downtown Anchorage, Gov. Murkowski said the appointment is "probably one of the most important decisions I will make as your governor."
"Above all, I felt the person who I appoint to the remaining two years of my term should be someone who shares my basic philosophy, my values - but particularly one who shares on the issue of Alaska matters that are before us," Murkowski said.
"I firmly believe that this person should come from the next generation of Alaskans and be prepared to stand multiple terms in the United States Senate to build up seniority."
Lisa Murkowski said she would dedicate the next two years to meeting the expectations of the office and "filling the big shoes" left by her father, who has held the seat since 1980.
"This is an incredible and an awesome responsibility," Lisa Murkowski said. "I know it was a very difficult decision to make because there truly were some very fine and very capable people who were considered."
Murkowski, an Anchorage Republican, has served two terms in the state House of Representatives. She was chosen recently as majority leader in that body.
Murkowski, 45, worked with the bipartisan fiscal policy caucus last session in an effort to craft a comprehensive long-range fiscal plan for the state.
Of the revenue proposals that were passed in the House, the dime-a-drink alcohol tax authored by Murkowski was the only one approved by the Senate and signed into law by Gov. Tony Knowles.
Known as a moderate Republican in the House, Murkowski has at times broken party ranks and voted with Democrats.
Last session, she was one of five House Republicans to vote against a measure restricting Medicaid-funded abortions considered medically necessary. That bill passed the House and Senate but was vetoed by Knowles.
"I may have a very short-lived political future here," Murkowski said on the House floor last May. "But you know, I've got great kids, and a great husband, and I'm going to have a good heart, and I'm going to stand up for the Constitution, and I'm going to stand up for the women of the state of Alaska, and I'm going to vote no."
That prediction almost came true in late August when Murkowski ran against political newcomer Nancy Dahlstrom in the Republican primary, beating her by only 57 votes.
Gov. Murkowski said at today's press conference that he interviewed 11 of 26 candidates on the list of potential successors within the last two weeks.
U.S. Rep. Don Young immediately applauded the decision, predicting Murkowski would be "an outstanding senator for Alaska for years to come."
But a citizens' advocacy group cried foul.
"The Murkowski appointment is another sign that a monied elite, funded by outside special interests, now controls our state," said a prepared statement from the Anchorage-based Alaska Public Interest Research Group. "The freedom of Alaskans to govern themselves has been weakened."
Brian O'Donoghue, a former state government reporter for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner and a journalism professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, acknowledged Murkowski is qualified for the job but added that the appointment gives the impression that the interview process was a "ruse."
"It seems like a bit of an effort to head off criticism on what was a done deal from the start," O'Donoghue said.
David Dittman, an Anchorage pollster who has worked for Frank Murkowski's campaigns, said there is a perception in political circles that the interview process with other candidates was just a show.
"There are a lot of upset people right now," Dittman said. "A number of people under consideration may run against her in the primary next year."
Now that the U.S. Senate position is filled, Gov. Murkowski will appoint a state representative to fill his daughter's seat.
House Speaker Pete Kott, an Eagle River Republican, said the vacated seat could be filled by Dahlstrom.
Outgoing Rep. Eldon Mulder, an Anchorage Republican who decided not to run for re-election this year to avoid a primary race against Lisa Murkowski due to redistricting, is another possibility, Kott said.
"If Eldon ends up being the person, he might end up the majority leader, or he could go back to the Finance Committee," Kott said. "I would suspect that he would go back to be the co-chair of finance, which is a more powerful position."
Under that scenario, Rep. Norm Rokeberg could become the majority leader, Kott said.
Other possible replacements include former House Speaker Gail Phillips' daughter Robin Phillips, Matt Gill, a legislative staffer for Mulder, or Anchorage Assembly member Dan Kendall, Kott said.
Three names will be submitted by the majority for selection by Gov. Murkowski.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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