Monday, November 10, 2008

How Stuff Works: An Alaska Vacancy in the US Senate

This seems silly, but I'll start another post by saying, in last week's post about the Georgia Senate runoff. Anyway, in that post, I discussed the other two uncalled Senate races, those in Alaska and Minnesota. Specifically I brought up the idea of Ted Stevens winning reelection but being forced out by the Senate and that opening the door to Sarah Palin appointing herself to fill the vacancy. As I said there, Alaska actually has two, somewhat conflicting laws on how to deal with such vacancies. But first, let's start with a time line of how the Last Frontier got to this point:

Prior to 2002
The governor had the ability to appoint someone to such a vacancy and the appointee didn't have to stand for election until the next election period.
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2002
Frank Murkowski is elected governor, resigns his Senate seat and appoints his daughter to fill the Senate vacancy. Lisa Murkowski doesn't have to face the voters until 2004.
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2004
The Alaska legislature acts to close the loophole, granting the governor the option of appointing a replacement on an interim basis until a special election can be held within 60-90 days.
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Wanting to remove the governor from the equation altogether, a petition-triggered initiative (Prop 4) was, upon challenge, ruled sufficiently different from the original law by the Alaska Supreme Court and subsequently passed.
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2008
Governor Sarah Palin is named vice presidential running mate by John McCain. Senator Ted Stevens is convicted of seven felony counts and the whole discussion begins as to what the correct senatorial succession procedure is.

Essentially what's at stake here is that if Stevens wins and is forced from his position in the Senate, Sarah Palin will have a decision to make: wait the 60-90 days until the special election is held, or test that initiative by appointing someone in the interim. It isn't a Florida 2000-type constitutional crisis, but it is an interesting constitutional situation, nonetheless. And when you throw in the possibility of the former vice presidential nominee appointing herself as a stepping stone to 2012, it gets even better.

For a more detailed explanation of the situation, see the following link.


Recent Posts:
More on the Georgia Senate Runoff

Omaha to Obama

A Slideshow Chronology of the Electoral College on Election Night

4 comments:

Jack said...

Thanks for clearing this up. Great job as always.

I wonder if Democrats will be reluctant to expel Stevens if they suspect Palin will be his replacement.

I also wonder what Begich's chances would be in a special election against, say, Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell, who barely lost his primary challenge to Rep. Don Young. Parnell hasn't been convicted of any felonies, to be sure, but he isn't a hero in the state like Stevens is. Also, in a special election, he wouldn't benefit from the presence of Sarah Palin on the presidential ticket or on depressed Democratic turnout from celebrating Obama's victory, as Stevens did.

Of course, all of this is moot if by some miracle, Begich pulls this out.

Josh Putnam said...

Sure Jack. I'm just glad I found that link again and stumbled upon the Kos link.

The speculation I've read -- and it is limited -- has circulated around the idea that Parnell and not Palin would be the appointment. If she pulls the trigger on an interim appointment (pun intended) that would certainly help his chances in the special. Begich will have the advantage of having just run a campaign, but turnout will be way down and I'd assume that would help the Republican candidate.

Jack said...

But, there is a theory that Democratic turnout was low during the general election while Republican turnout was high. That's the most unfavorable possible scenario for the Democrat. While special elections may not normally be ideal for Democrats, it would be better than the general election, as both sides would have depressed turnout.

And I like the pun.

Josh Putnam said...

Right. We're not talking about a big shift here. If turnout is low and the drop hits both parties the same way as opposed to the GOP turnout being high and the Democrats' low, that may be enough of a change at the margins to make a difference.

As an aside, timing matters too. Let's say Stevens holds on for a while and is forced out sometime during the latter part of 2009. 60-90 days down the road puts that potential special election in a position for the GOP to pump a lot of money into the state and make a Republican win in that race an early indication of how the midterms will go (see IL, LA and MS races from earlier this year, though perhaps not to the same level).