Web posted Tuesday, October 22, 2002

Stevens stumps for Murkowski in Fairbanks

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- If Sen. Frank Murkowski is elected governor, his choice for his senate successor would likely rank higher than other freshmen senators, according to Sen. Ted Stevens.

People who are appointed to complete the terms of retiring senators can be considered to have been elected in the previous election. That gives them a two-year edge in the line of senators seeking powerful committee chairmanships in future years, Stevens said Sunday at a Republican rally in Fairbanks.

Murkowski faces Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, the Democratic nominee, in the Nov. 5 general election.

Besides Ulmer's candidacy, there is a catch to getting a new Republican U.S. senator from Alaska with a two-year head start in seniority, Stevens said. Under current Senate rules, the seniority boost is granted only if the new senator joins colleagues in session prior to the next Congress convening in January.

That shouldn't be a problem this year, Stevens said. Alaska's new governor will be sworn in at noon on Dec. 1. If that's Murkowski, he will be allowed to appoint a replacement senator five days later, under a new Alaska law.

The 107th Congress will almost certainly still be in a lame duck session at that time finishing up appropriations bills and perhaps struggling over a few high-profile but unresolved issues such as homeland security and energy legislation. So the new senator would start work and obtain an automatic two-year advantage on other senators arriving in January.

The new senator would rank 91 or 92 in the 100-member Senate, Stevens said.

''So, the way the math would work, we'd be giving up someone with 22 years for someone with two years of seniority?'' said Ulmer's campaign manager Jim Nordlund in Anchorage. ''It doesn't sound like a very good bargain to me.''

Nordlund said the ''Republicans for Ulmer'' group, a subgroup of Ulmer's campaign, have been pushing a similar theme.

''We know that's an issue of concern to many Alaskans, that Frank would be giving up that post,'' Nordlund told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. ''This two-year deal is certainly no replacement.''

To Stevens and Republican strategists, however, seniority considerations are a key part of Murkowski's gubernatorial bid.

Talking with Alaska media in Washington, D.C., earlier this month, Stevens said he and U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, are aging and the state needs some new, younger representation in Congress, people who have many years ahead of them to build up seniority in Congress.

Murkowski has declined to say who he plans to appoint if elected governor. Stevens said that more than two dozen people have expressed interest.