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The Nation

It's All in the Family in Alaska Politics

New Gov. Frank H. Murkowski names his daughter Lisa as his successor to the U.S. Senate. She is seen as more moderate.

December 21, 2002|Sam Howe Verhovek | Times Staff Writer

SEATTLE — Alaska's Frank H. Murkowski delivered an early Christmas present Friday to his daughter Lisa, appointing her to the U.S. Senate seat he vacated after being elected the state's governor last month.

Lisa Murkowski, 45, a state representative from Anchorage who recently had been elected House majority leader, was sworn in Friday and will serve the remaining two years of her father's fourth term. She is the first woman to serve as a U.S. senator in Alaska's 43 years of statehood.

Her appointment does not change the balance of power in the Senate, since she is a Republican like her father. And in a state where Republicans generally dominate politics, reaction from party members to the appointment was generally positive.

Many Democrats, however, leapt all over the appointment and vowed to mount a vigorous challenge to Lisa Murkowski's presumed run in 2004 for a full six-year term.

"This is supposed to be a democracy, not a nepotistic monarchy," said Tammy Troyer, director of the Alaska Democratic Party, even as she allowed that the appointment did amount to "a very nice gift from a father to his daughter."

Frank Murkowski said Friday that he had made his selection only after an extensive search in which, he said, he considered 26 people for the position and interviewed 11 of them.

"I've reached out to Alaskans from all over the state," he said at a news conference in Anchorage. "Above all, I felt the person I appoint to the remaining two years of my term should be someone who shares my basic philosophy, my values."

Lisa Murkowski, a lawyer and mother of two, said she was "deeply honored" by the appointment. "We have a great deal in common besides sharing a name," she said of her 68-year-old father. "We share the same vision for the state."

Some Democrats had a muted reaction to the news, making it difficult to gauge just how much controversy the unusual appointment will generate in the last frontier.

The House minority leader, Democratic Rep. Ethan Berkowitz, said of the new senator: "Lisa is a friend of mine and I wish her well. This is one of the few times in my life that I will say no more than that."

Jerry McBeath, a political science professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, predicted there would be "a big hoot and holler, but then it will all blow over."

He added: "She is a polished politician, she presents herself well and she will be a far better senator for Alaska than her father ever was. She is much more moderate, and in a three-person delegation, that moderation can be very important.

"And she is a woman senator coming out of Alaska," McBeath said. "That is a new frontier."

Lisa Murkowski is perceived in the state as more moderate than her father on some issues.

She has come out in favor of new taxes to help ease a budget deficit aggravated by dwindling oil revenues in the state, while her father ran for governor on a staunch anti-tax platform. Daughter and father favor opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling for oil.

Among the people Gov. Murkowski considered for the job was state Sen. Ben Stevens, son of Alaska's senior U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens.

Frank Murkowski, sworn in as governor this month, was able to name his Senate successor only because of a state law enacted this year by the Republican-controlled Legislature over the veto of then-Gov. Tony Knowles, a Democrat.

That law mandated a five-day waiting period for U.S. Senate vacancies to be filled, thus allowing Frank Murkowski to resign from the Senate, be sworn in as governor and then name the new senator.

Knowles, who criticized the maneuver, is a leading contender for the Democratic 2004 Senate nomination.

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Times staff researcher Lynn Marshall contributed to this report.

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