Ted Stevens Update

2 11 2008

Our embattled Senior Senator Ted Stevens is facing the fallout of his seven felony convictions at every turn.  Here’s a semi-concise summary of where things stand.

Poll Numbers – The latest polls in Alaska, taken after the conviction, show Anchorage Mayor and Democratic challenger Mark Begich ahead with a commanding 22 point lead.    36% of Alaskans don’t mind voting for a convicted felon, but 58% do.  So that’s something.  The race was in a statistical tie just before the conviction, which makes you wonder why he pressed so hard for a speedy trial.  If he hadn’t requested it, he’d be in a lot better shape today.

Law License – Ted Stevens is an attorney, and last Thursday, the Alaska Bar Association sought to temporarily suspend his license to practice law.  Under the Bar Association rules, a conviction is considered to take effect as soon as the verdict is handed down by the jury. (Remember this for the next section).

Ability to Vote – The Division of Elections sought counsel from the Alaska Department of Law regarding whether Senator Stevens will, in fact, be prevented from voting on Tuesday.  Assistant Attorney General Michael Barnhill returned the opinion that Stevens may vote, and that the restriction of that privilege, due to felony conviction, comes at the moment of sentencing, and after the appeals process has run its course.  It’s interesting to note that the day this opinion was released by Barnhill, two callers in to progressive talk radio station KUDO in Anchorage, said that they were convicted felons and that they had lost their right to vote immediately upon the guilty verdict, despite the fact that they had appealed the case and were not yet sentenced. 

PFD Check – Because Stevens committed his seven felonies outside the state of Alaska, he will be allowed to continue to receive his Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend check.  Had the crimes been committed in the state of Alaska, he would have been ineligible to receive the annual check.  If Stevens’ appeal is tried in the state, and he loses, he would also lose his check.

Endorsements – Stevens still retains the support of Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Congressman Don Young, and his long-time close friend Democratic Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii.  Those on the other side who have rapidly distanced themselves from Stevens and have asked for him to step down are:  Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D), Republican Presidential nominee John McCain, and VP nominee and Alaska Governor, Sarah Palin.

In a statement released by the Stevens campaign, [Senator] Inouye argues that his longtime friend will be seated as a Member of the Senate next year if re-elected and that he believes the felony convictions will be overturned.

“As the Senate has done in every other instance in its long 220-year history, I am absolutely confident that Ted Stevens will be sworn into the Senate while he appeals this unjust verdict, I am certain that this decision in Washington, D.C., will be overturned on appeal,” Inouye said.

But Reid rejected that reading of Senate history and chastised Stevens for using his friend in a political campaign.

“While I respect the opinion of Senator Daniel Inouye, the reality is that a convicted felon is not going to be able to serve in the United States Senate. And as precedent shows us, Senator Stevens will face an ethics committee investigation and expulsion, regardless of his appeals process,” Reid said.

Expulsion – Expulsion requires a 2/3 vote of the Senate, and is likely should Stevens be re-elected.  As much of a lion as Stevens has been, and although he has built solid relationships in the Senate, I don’t believe that more than a third of the Senate will fall on their swords to support him.  Voters don’t like politicians that like to pal around with convicted felons.

Appointment to vacant Senate seat –

If Stevens does get re-elected and then expelled, Alaska law states that there must be a special election held to fill the seat.  Sarah Palin, as Governor, cannot appoint herself to fill the seat.  She cannot appoint anyone to fill the seat, either permanently or temporarily.  There has been widespread misinformation on this point, including information coming from the head of the Division of Elections.  Yes, really…

The Alaska Replacement of U.S. Senators Act, also known as Alaska Ballot Measure 4 was on the November election ballot in Alaska.  It passed, with 55.6% of voters in favor.

The ballot initiative related to how the state fills its U.S. Senate vacancies, which became an issue in Alaska after Republican Frank Murkowski appointed his daughter Lisa Murkowski his Senate seat when he was elected governor in 2002.

Prior to the successful passage of the 2004 ballot measure, the governor could appoint a replacement to a vacant Senate seat. The initiative was primarily sponsored by Democratic legislators. It abolished the practice of appointments and required a special election in all cases except when the vacancy occurs within 60 days of a primary election.

Lt. Gov. Loren Leman, the Republican chief of the Division of Elections, twice removed the measure from the Nov. 2 ballot but was ordered by the Alaska Supreme Court to put it back on.

He wrote the initiative’s ballot summary, which said the proposition would leave Alaska without full representation in the Senate for three to five months.

The group that petitioned for the initiative, Trust the People, sued for an injunction once it discovered the language of the summary on Sept. 21.

The language that appeared on the ballot:

This measure would repeal state law that allows the Governor to appoint a person to temporarily fill a vacant seat in the United States Senate until an election can be held and certified. Under this measure a vacated seat would remain vacant for three to five months, leaving Alaska without full representation in the Senate. Other provisions are identical to existing law and those parts of the law remain unchanged. Current law requires that a senate vacancy be filled by special election, or regular election if the vacancy occurs less than 60 days before the primary election for that seat.

If Governor Palin attempted to put someone in that seat without a special election, there would be legal action filed within hours. Guaranteed.

However, that said, nothing would prevent Palin from running for that seat against whomever else the Republican party rules allowed to run.

At this point, down by 22 points, Stevens stands next to no chance of winning his re-election bid.  So, at the risk of jinxing it, I think this is a shoe-in for Begich.  BUT, Lisa Murkowski, the Senator mentioned above, is running for re-election in 2010.  I think it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that Palin has her eye on that seat.  She already took down one Murkowski in a Republican primary, so why not try for another?  She’s caught a bit of the flavor of being in the national spotlight, and she likes it.

I’ll quote my Grandmother, just because I like to do that.  She would have said, “How do you get Nellie back on the farm, once she’s seen Par-ee?”