Murkowski appointment makes history

Posted: Friday, December 20, 2002

WASHINGTON - Lisa Murkowski, the newest member of the U.S. Senate, is making history before she ever sets foot in the hallowed halls of Congress.

Murkowski, 45, is the first daughter or son to be appointed to the Senate by a father who is a sitting governor, according to a Senate historian. Several governors have appointed their wives to the Senate, but never their children.

The new Alaska law that allowed Gov. Frank Murkowski to appoint his successor to the Senate is not an unprecedented circumstance, however. Pete Wilson of California, for example, appointed his successor to the U.S. Senate after he became governor.

Lisa Murkowski will have a boost in seniority over the 10 new senators elected last month, since her term began today.

The leg up on the ladder of 100 senators will help Murkowski with everything from committee choices to selection of Senate office space. Seniority is a prized commodity in the clubby atmosphere of the Senate.

As a sitting senator starting today, Murkowski also begins collecting her $150,000 salary and can start hiring staff. Several longtime aides to her father said they're hoping she decides to retain them, at least in the short term.

The workers have been given severance pay until Feb. 1 and have been busy packing up 1,400 boxes of archives and files.

Gov. Murkowski said he wanted to name a successor who would be young enough to build up seniority in the Senate. He also presumably wanted to give his daughter a jump on the tough election coming in just two years, where former Gov. Tony Knowles is expected to run as a Democrat for the U.S. Senate seat.

Donald Ritchie, associate historian of the Senate, cited statistics indicating the two-year head start may not be helpful to Lisa Murkowski.

Since 1914, one-third of the appointed senators have decided not to run for a full term. Of the two-thirds who have run, half have won and half have lost, he said.

"People assume it is a big advantage, and sometimes it is. But sometimes it isn't because the appointed senator has to spend a lot of time in Washington," Ritchie said.

In last month's election in Missouri, the appointed senator, Democrat Jean Carnahan, lost to Jim Talent, a Republican member of the U.S. House. Talent was sworn in Nov. 23 and thus edges Murkowski slightly in seniority to lead the class of 2002.

Murkowski will join the newly elected senators Jan. 7 for the ritual swearing-in ceremony on the Senate floor, when the oath of office is administered by the vice president.

She may have an easier time with one chore for new lawmakers - finding a place to live. Her parents own a plush townhouse just a few blocks from the Capitol that the new governor may make available.

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