Alaska News Nightly: November 3, 2010

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Parnell, Young Retain Seats; Write-In Ballots to be Counted for US Senate Race
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
Tuesday, Alaskans voted to keep their Governor and U.S. Congressman, and may have made history with their U.S. Senate vote.  A write-in candidate hasn’t won a Senate seat in 56 years, but Lisa Murkowski is on a trajectory to make history.

With 98.6 percent of precincts reporting, the “write-in” has 41 percent of the vote.  Republican candidate Joe Miller is trailing by 13,500 ballots.  Democrat Scott McAdams is in third with about a quarter of the vote.

Just what exactly more than 81,000 Alaskans wrote on the line remains to be seen, however.  The state Division of Elections has to read each ballot individually.  Lieutenant Governor Craig Campbell announced today that examining the write-ins will start a week sooner than initially planned, on November 10.  He expects it to take three days.

Officials say “voter intent” is key, and simple misspellings will be accepted.  160 other people signed up as write-ins last week, in an attempt to create chaos and confuse voters.  They were prompted to do so by conservative Joe Miller supporters.

But despite that, it was a good day for the incumbents Alaska sends to Washington. APRN’s Libby Casey reports.

Late this afternoon Murkowski announced a legal defense fund established to deal with expected litigation over write in ballots.

Parnell Asks for Resignations from Palin Appointees
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
Wednesday, Governor Sean Parnell took the first steps in creating his own administration that will be different from what he inherited when Sarah Palin quit last year.  It is the same step taken when one governor takes over from another – and, since it didn’t take place when Palin left office, it could indicate a noticeable break from the past.

He is asking for resignations from all Palin appointees – at the cabinet level, division directors and agency heads.  Parnell says they can re-apply for the jobs and he will consider the applications, but indicated that some will likely be rejected.

Parnell says he is asking for recommendations on the structure of the administration as well.    New governors usually review the work of various departments under their control.  But Parnell is looking for an interdepartmental review centered on the topics that each department deals with.   These vary, with one working group dealing with Energy and the Environment, another on Health and Education, still another on Public Safety.  There are six overlapping topics in all — each with its own group of external reviewers.

He says government can always improve.

The transition will be headed by Bryan Butcher, currently the director of government relations for the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation.   Parnell says he expects to receive the reports in December.

Governor May Find Less Opposition in House, But Senate Remains Much the Same
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
Governor Parnell will still have to get his own, new agenda through the legislature next year.  As Dave Donaldson reports he will find a little less opposition to what he wants in the House – but in the Senate, very little seems to have changed.

Just moments ago, the Senate majority coalition announced that it has reorganized for next year’s session. Kodiak Republican Gary Stevens will again serve as Senate President.

Murkowski’s Push for Bush Votes Appears to Have Worked
Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau
Native corporations’ efforts to get out the vote for Senator Lisa Murkowski in rural parts of Alaska appear to have worked.

In the weeks before Election Day, the group Alaskans Standing Together – a Political Action Committee made up of 12 regional Native Corporations – spent more than $1.2 million supporting Murkowski’s write-in bid. It also had volunteers go door-to-door in rural villages to drum up support for her campaign.

In District 38, which includes Bethel and surrounding villages, write-ins got 76 percent of the vote, compared to 14 percent for Democrat Scott McAdams and 9 percent for Republican nominee Joe Miller. In the Bristol Bay and Aleutian Islands area – District 37 – write-ins got 61 percent of the vote.

Angoon State Senator Albert Kookesh’s home community voted 81 percent for write-ins. Kookesh is a Democrat, but also a Sealaska Corporation board member. He bucked his party to support Murkowski.

Murkowski has championed Sealaska’s land selection legislation in Congress. The bill would allow the company to choose land outside the original 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act boundaries to complete its entitlement. Another Sealaska board member, Byron Mallott, co-chaired Murkowski’s statewide campaign. Mallott was travelling to Washington, D.C. Wednesday and unavailable for comment.

The Alaska Federation of Natives, which endorsed Murkowski, cancelled a scheduled Senate candidate forum at its recent convention. Kookesh is co-chair of the AFN board of directors.

The $1.2 million spent by Alaskans Standing Together was the largest amount spent by a group in Alaska’s Senate race. A spokesman for the group could not be reached for comment.

Fairbanks-Area House Race Sees Upset
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
In Fairbanks area State House races, Republican incumbent Mike Kelly has been upset by Democrat Bob Miller. Miller benefitted from a surge of anti-Kelly mailings and ads in recent weeks.  The popular local actor and former TV newsman, says the ads didn’t hurt, but he and his campaign were not responsible for them.

Miller is a political neophyte, who says he expected a tight race, as did Kelly.  Kelly says the attack ads contained lies, but that he lives and dies by his hard line stances on issues.

Kelly narrowly fought back a challenge in the last election, and his defeat this time, bucked a trend in local legislative races that saw other incumbents hold onto their seats.

Murder Witness Comes Forward With Disturbing Details
Shane Iverson, KYUK – Bethel
19-year-old Benjamin Kaiser was found dead in Bethel less than a week ago; the victim of what’s been called a torturous murder by investigators.

Bethel Police believe that several people may have known about the incident before they were alerted.    Police got began investigating when, Nick Cooke, 34, of Bethel, came forward.  That was 32 hours after he witnessed the crimes.  Cook contacted member station KYUK in Bethel to discuss what he saw that day and why he took a day and a half to come forward. Shane Iverson reports. A word of warning here. This story contains graphic and disturbing details.

Conference Examines Invasive Species
Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks
A recent conference in Fairbanks examined the problem of invasive species in Alaska. The event was intended to help the public understand the problem and why they should be concerned about it.

Assembly Member Proposes Tobacco Tax Hike
Len Anderson, KSKA – Anchorage
Anchorage Assembly Chair Dick Traini wants to raise the municipality’s tobacco tax.  A recent public hearing showed the proposed hike is attracting praise from anti-smoking groups, the ire of smokers and some unanticipated attention from the tobacco industry.