Thursday, November 06, 2008

Alaska Republican U.S. Senator Ted Stevens In The Lead Over Democrat Mark Begich, But Victory Not Assured Yet

While Congressman Don Young's lead over Ethan Berkowitz is large enough to consider Young the de facto winner of that race, the same cannot be said for the U.S. Senate race between incumbent Republican Ted Stevens and Democratic challenger Mark Begich.

According to an Anchorage Daily News article published November 5th, 2008, Stevens only leads Begich by 1.4 percentage points. The official results show that Stevens currently has 106,594 votes while Begich has 103,337. The Alaska Division of Elections said still to be counted are more than 55,000 absentee, questioned, and uncounted early votes.

And Mark Begich further explained the situation. "Twenty percent of the vote hasn't even been counted," Begich said. "Areas that (Stevens) used to carry, Bush Alaska -- Dillingham, Kotzebue, Nome, Bethel, Barrow, we won them all, we won them big ... And there's a lot of absentee and questioned ballots coming in from those areas". Results tabulated so far show that the two candidates split Anchorage, while Begich had a narrow edge in Fairbanks and dominated in Southeast Alaska.

Begich also said the Democrats made a big push for early voting, and many of those ballots have not been counted yet. His campaign was also optimistic about military absentee votes, since Begich topped Stevens in election districts encompassing Alaska's four largest military installations.

In response, the Stevens campaign said voting trends so far suggest the uncounted absentee ballots will go Republican and add to Stevens' lead. Of course, this race had so many variables that confusion is unavoidable. Even the pollsters are scratching their heads - every prominent pollster predicted a Begich victory, with most expecting an eight-point cushion or more. Stevens' current lead is outside the margin of error for those polls.

In reviewing public comments to many Ted Stevens election stories, many people, particularly those in the Lower 48, are genuinely perplexed as to how a plurality of Alaskans could vote for an elected official who has just been convicted on seven felony counts. These people deserve an answer, and, being one of those who chose to vote for Ted Stevens, I will provide that answer:

(1). Lengthy and productive service to the state as a U.S. Senator. Ted Stevens has served Alaska with distinction for 40 years in the U.S. Senate. During this time, he has provided assistance to countless consituents, many of who bear public testimonials as to the effectiveness of his assistance. Ted Stevens is also singularly effective in directing resources (some call it "pork") to Alaska. While some of it may be superfluous, the majority of it is necessary. Bear in mind that the Federal government owns two-thirds of our state's land, which by law cannot be subject to state taxation even if we provide services like road access to it. So the so-called "pork" tends to compensate for it. But when a national outcry over earmarks arose earlier this year, Ted Stevens was amongst the first to post a list of all requested earmarks on his official U.S. Senate website.

(2). Ted Stevens' recent conviction is widely perceived to be bogus. Senator Stevens not only continues to maintain his innocence, but his attorneys have filed an appeal brief highlighting four specific examples of prosecutorial misconduct. A former U.S. Attorney for Alaska, Wev Shea, has characterized the trial as a major miscarriage of justice. Much of the Federal case was driven by the testimony of a major snitch, former VECO CEO Bill Allen, who openly admitted that he didn't send Stevens all the invoices for the cabin rehabilitation, even after Stevens repeatedly asked him if there were other invoices. Furthermore, the "crime" for which Stevens was convicted was not a crime against persons or property, but an "administrative" crime. Consequently, people do not consider Ted Stevens a threat to their persons or property.

A story in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner also discusses why Alaskans are rallying around Stevens. Even if you still disagree with us voting for Ted Stevens, at least you now have some insight as to the facts, perceptions, and emotions driving our thinking. Ted Stevens is NOT another Marion Barry.

So what happens next? Assuming that the final election results certify a victory for Ted Stevens, he will then begin his next term in the U.S. Senate. So long as his appeal is pending, the Senate is unlikely to attempt to expel him, nor would any such attempt be likely to succeed. However, if his appeal fails, then Ted Stevens would quite likely be expelled from the Senate (see a Washington Post article for more insight). I believe in such a case, Stevens would then voluntarily resign before he could actually be removed. That's when Alaska's succession procedure, spelled out in greater detail in this previous post, kicks in. In summary, two statutes define the process (a post in Alaska Dispatch also discusses this issue):

- AS 15.40.145. Temporary Appointment of United States Senator: The governor appoints a temporary replacement. Governor Sarah Palin could even appoint herself if she chose, although she would have to resign as governor immediately thereafter. Personally, I think the best replacements would be former gubernatorial candidates John Binkley and Andrew Halcro, or former Assemblyman Dan Sullivan. If we wanted a Democrat to give us stroke with the Democratic majority, either Tony Knowles or Ethan Berkowitz could fill the bill.

- AS 15.40.140. Condition and Time of Calling Special Election: A special election to determine a permanent replacement would have to be held between 60 and 90 days after the vacancy initially occurs. The temporary replacement could also stand in that election.

The bottom line - although Ted Stevens has been convicted, he is formally disputing his conviction. There is a good chance that either his conviction will be overturned, or he might get a new trial. Consequently, we will treat him as if he hasn't been convicted unless or until his conviction is affirmed in the appellate process.

1 comment:

  1. It's my understanding that Sen. Reid has already said that he will not allow Stevens to be seated in January.