Gov. Murkowski chooses his daughter to fill Senate seat

AP Photo/Jason DeCrow
JUNEAU -- Saying it was time for the next generation of Alaskans to start building seniority in Congress, Gov. Frank Murkowski on Dec. 20 appointed his daughter to succeed him in the U.S. Senate.

"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, but particularly one who shares on the issues of Alaska matters that are before us. Someone whose judgment I trust in representing the state and all of its people," Murkowski said in appointing his daughter, Lisa, to the seat he held for 22 years.

Lisa Murkowski, 45, is a Republican state representative from Anchorage re-elected last month to a third term and chosen as House Majority Leader.

Frank Murkowski resigned the Senate seat he held for more than two decades when he was sworn in as governor Dec. 2. A law passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature allowed him to pick his successor.

At a news conference Dec. 20 in Anchorage Gov. Murkowski said he whittled his list of potential candidates down from 26 to 11 and conducted interviews since being sworn in.

"In some ways, this is probably one of the most important decisions I will make as your governor. Recognizing this responsibility, I’ve reached out to Alaskans from all over the state," the governor said.

Murkowski said he wanted to choose someone with legislative experience who could get things done in Washington D.C. and establish their own identity in the U.S Senate.

Following her father’s announcement, Lisa Murkowski called her appointment an incredible and awesome responsibility.

"We have a great deal in common besides sharing a name," she said. "We share the same vision for the state. We share the same values."

Lisa Murkowski is a lawyer and former attorney for the Anchorage District Court. She and her husband, Verne Martial, have two children. She will begin the job with strong name recognition but with a voting record in the Legislature that has invited criticism from the Party’s conservative ranks.

Lisa Murkowski built a reputation as being a moderate and a maverick who would push GOP leaders to tackle thorny issues such as a budget shortfall projected to top $1 billion by 2004.

Last session, Rep. Murkowski successfully sponsored an alcohol tax increase and was a key member of a bipartisan caucus proposing new taxes and revenue measures.

In August, she narrowly won the GOP primary in a new legislative district over conservative challenger Nancy Dahlstrom while other moderate Republicans either retired or lost to primary challengers.

On Dec. 20, she sought to downplay the perception of her as a moderate and said she is "right in alignment" with her more conservative father on core issues.

Frank Murkowski’s U.S. Senate voting record earned perfect scores from the National Right to Life Committee, the Christian Coalition and the National Rifle Association. In the Legislature, Lisa Murkowski voted against a bill to limit state funding for abortions.

But both father and daughter support opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration and federal aid to spur a North Slope gas pipeline to the Lower 48.

"I’m committed to filling the big shoes you’ve left behind and working closely with Ted (Sen. Ted Stevens) and Don (Rep. Don Young) as part of the Alaskan team," she said.

Much of the official comments from fellow Republicans praised the appointment. "This is the beginning of the new Stevens, Young and Murkowski team," said state Republican Party Chairman Randy Ruedrich.

Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young said Lisa Murkowski will be an outstanding senator for Alaska for years to come.

But the state Republican Party has a history of infighting among its factions, which greatly aided former Democrat Gov. Tony Knowles in his 1994 election.

Lisa Murkowski will have to seek statewide election in two years and some Republicans predict a conservative backlash will be unavoidable.

"I think it will still be considered an open seat in terms of the people who are interested in running for U.S. Senator," said former state Sen. Pete Kelly, a conservative Fairbanks Republican.

Added to the tension is the lengthy list of prominent Republicans passed over for the job. Alaska Railroad board chairman Johne Binkley, Interior Department administrator Drue Pearce and Teamster leader Jerry Hood were a few considered by Gov. Murkowski.

"Certainly he will be criticized by some for picking his daughter," said Jerry Mackie, a former lawmaker who interviewed for the appointment. "But the Republican Party needs to have a big tent and needs to be inclusive rather than exclusive."

Murkowski said she is independent-minded but acknowledged that her role for the next two years will be to bridge differences among Alaskans. "I’m not convinced they’re all out to get me," she said.

Stevens told the Associated Press in a telephone interview that he and Young will back Gov. Murkowski’s decision.

"Don and I will work with her to help her do the best job possible in Washington," Stevens said.

-- The Associated Press

12/29/2002 - 8:00pm