Alaska News Nightly: November 15, 2010

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Senate Race Separated By Just Over 1,000 Votes
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
As vote-counting ended Monday, Lisa Murkowski is a little more than 1,000 votes ahead in her write-in campaign to keep her seat in the U.S. Senate.

That total – 91,517 votes – includes ballots that have been credited to her, but challenged by observers for Republican nominee Joe Miller.   Without those challenged ballots, Murkowski still falls short of Miller as the Division heads into its final days of counting with about 10,000 more ballots remaining.   Murkowski is still getting 98 percent of the write-ins as they are counted.

For the past six days, Lisa Murkowski has been getting 90 percent of those write-in votes unchallenged by Miller observers.  If the trend continues, Murkowski will be solidly on top with tomorrow’s totals.  But the number and status of those challenged ballots is at the center of the issue.

And either side is ready to claim victory or admit defeat – both saying they’ll wait for the final numbers to come in.

Miller’s spokesman Randy DeSoto says he still feels good about the results.  He’s looking at Murkowski’s total votes without those that have been challenged by Miller observers.

Murkowski’s campaign staff is not giving the challenged ballots any serious consideration, however.   Campaign Manager Kevin Sweeney says the Division of Elections has determined that those challenged ballots should belong to Murkowski.  And he’s counting them, too.

When the votes are all counted, DeSoto says a narrow vote margin will result in Miller asking the courts to make the determination.  Sweeney says Murkowski’s legal team is confident that Miller will have no success there.

The counting will resume Tuesday at mid-day.   The election is on track to be certified by Nov. 29 – at which point any further legal action could begin.

Murkowski Remains Confident in Re-Election Bid
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
Senator Lisa Murkowski is currently back in Washington DC and says she’s confident she’ll win her re-election bid, but is content to wait until there’s a clear margin before she declares victory.  She says some of her Senate colleagues in Washington, both members of her own Republican Party and Democrats like Florida’s Bill Nelson, are giving her positive responses.

Even though the election was nearly two weeks ago, Murkowski is still wearing a blue rubber bracelet used by her campaign to teach voters how to spell her name.

If Murkowski does pull out the write-in win, she’ll be the first successful Senate write-in since the 1950s.

Rep. Johansen Meeting With District 1 Republicans
Deanna Garrison, KRBD – Ketchikan
Representative Kyle Johansen will meet Monday night with District 1 Republicans following his decision to walk out on the State House majority caucus and give up his position as House majority leader.  District 1 Republicans had requested the meeting.  They originally announced the meeting would be public, but later stated Johansen would only agree to a private meeting.  The Ketchikan Republican has increasingly come under fire in his home town.  The Ketchikan Daily News this past weekend ran an editorial calling on Johansen to resign.

State Decision Allowing Usibelli Coal to Explore for Gas Leaves Locals Upset
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
Usibelli Coal has been given the OK to explore for natural gas in the Healy area. The state has announced it will not reconsider its earlier decision to grant the company a license to look for gas on over 200,000 acres of land east and west of the Parks Highway near Denali National Park.  As KUAC’s Dan Bross reports, the move has some locals upset.

Lame Duck Session Commences in Congress
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
Congress returned to work Monday in Washington DC for the Lame Duck session.  That’s the time between Election Day and when the new batch of House and Senate members are sworn in, in January.

Stevens Prosecutor Will Not Face Criminal Charges
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
The prosecutors who bungled the case against the late Ted Stevens will not face criminal contempt charges, according to NPR.

After the former Alaska Senator was convicted two years ago for lying on financial disclosure forms, the conviction and case were thrown out by Judge Emmet Sullivan.  He was urged to do so by US Attorney General Eric Holder, who said the case was conducted improperly.

Judge Sullivan said Justice Department lawyers withheld important information and evidence from Stevens and his attorneys, which hurt Stevens’ defense.

The Judge named a special investigator last year, Henry Schulke to launch an investigation into the prosecution team.  Now NPR is reporting that sources familiar with the case say the prosecutors won’t face criminal charges.

Schuelke and the Justice Department would not comment to APRN today.  Schuelke has been collecting evidence and interviews for over a year, and is expected to turn over a written report to Judge Sullivan.

Man Sentenced to 50 Years in Murder of Homeless Man
Associated Press
A young man who stole $7 and beer from a homeless man before kicking and stomping him to death in a city park has been sentenced to 70 years in prison.

On Friday, 19-year-old Marc Steven Ewing was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of 37-year-old James Lockery III. Lockery, an unemployed drywaller, was attacked on July 12, 2009, while he was asleep in the park.

Superior Court Judge Michael Spaan described the crime as particularly depraved and senseless. He sentenced Ewing to 70 years in prison with 20 years suspended, meaning that Ewing will spend about 50 years in prison.

Fiddle Festival Draws Crowd in Fairbanks
Emily Schwing, APRN Contributor – Fairbanks
One of the largest Athabascan gatherings in the world took place in Fairbanks over the weekend, as it does every year.  It’s not a conference or a shareholders meeting, it’s a Fiddle Festival.  For the 28th consecutive year, people have come from across the interior and Canada to sing, dance and play the fiddle.