When Alaska Gov.-elect Frank Murkowski (R) began looking for someone to replace him in the Senate, he told reporters he was looking for a few things: He wanted someone who share his values. And his philosophy. And he needed someone who had the political skills to survive and prosper in Congress.
He found that person in his daughter.
Murkowski, who resigned his Senate seat earlier this month after winning the governorship, announced yesterday that he has appointed Lisa Murkowski, a 45-year-old Republican state legislator, to his unexpired term. It is the first time, experts say, that a father has directly appointed his child to the chamber.
The appointment comes after weeks of speculation that was fueled, in part, by the governor's release of a list of more than two dozen candidates that he was reportedly considering. Among them: His daughter, the son of Alaska's other GOP senator, Ted Stevens, a retired archbishop, NATO commander Gen. Joseph Ralston and numerous past and present state legislators.
The governor was given the power to name his successor earlier this year by the GOP-controlled legislature.
Republicans hailed the decision, saying Lisa Murkowski was the most qualified of the bunch. A moderate, she has had a successful career in the state legislature, they said, and, besides, has spent 22 years watching her father navigate the Senate. Murkowski will also likely inherit much of her father's connections and files. And she will have widespread name recognition if, as is expected, she runs for election in the 2004.
Even some Democrats had at least qualified praise for the choice. A spokeswoman for the state Democratic Party said it was "satisfied" with the choice but was nevertheless disturbed by what it called the "nepotism" involved. Sen. Jon S. Corzine (D-N.J.), incoming chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, was a bit more generous, saying in a statement that he "looked forward to working with her" for the next two years.
The loudest criticisms of the decision came from outside observers, who doubted Murkowski was the best candidate and said it at least appeared that the governor was attempting to create a dynasty by fiat.
"She could be perfectly well-qualified," said University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato. "But she is the daughter of the governor. It just looks like he's reserving two-thirds of the key positions in Alaska for his personal family," he said.