The Congressional Indicted Caucus officially has one fewer member. Senator Ted Stevens has been convicted on all counts. To quote a certain played-out, over-the-hill cartoonist: “Guilty, guilty, guilty!” (More here, here, here, and here.) For his part, Stevens has announced he will appeal, maintaining his innocence and lacerating the prosecutors for what I admit was some pretty messed-up lawyering.
I can’t say I’ll be sorry to see Sen. Stevens go, which will come as no surprise to WitSnapper readers (who may have read my thoughts on the man here, here, here, here, and elsewhere). His Senate seat will likely go to his Democratic opponent, Anchorage mayor Mark Begich, now effectively running unopposed. Republicans now are scrambling to assess their very limited options.
Bunches of scenario-weaving below the break.
Stevens could still technically “win” the election (doubtful, of course, but humor an election-dynamics wonk for a minute); if he were to do so, it could get briefly interesting. If Stevens is re-elected, he would be sworn in on the Jan. 3 swearing-in date for members of Congress, because his sentencing isn’t scheduled until Feb. 25 at the earliest. When he is sentenced, he will be forced to resign, and he will be replaced by an appointee chosen by Alaska’s governor.
Thing is, we don’t know who that will be yet. If McCain loses the presidential election, Alaska’s next senator will be appointed by Sarah Palin, who will return to complete her term. If McCain wins the election, Palin will be sworn in as Vice President on Jan. 20, so she will be forced to resign as governor before Stevens is sentenced. (To keep my wonkery going, I’m going on the assumption that Stevens will cling jealously to his seat until the last possible second, rather than resign immediately and be replaced by Palin in any event. I mean, c’mon, that’s not exactly out of character, is it?) In that case, the replacement will be appointed by now-Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell, who will ascend to the governorship upon Palin’s resignation, since he barely lost (by a few hundred votes) a Republican congressional primary challenge to unseat Rep. Don Young.
Once again, this is all fairly academic, since Stevens will almost certainly lose. Alaska Republicans’ only hope is a concerted effort by Gov. Palin and Lt. Gov. Parnell to get Stevens out of the public eye and start hawking their chosen appointment immediately.
It’s the mother of all longshots, and it will have to be someone who is already well known, since no one will vote for anyone unfamiliar who pops up a week before the election. If they can secure a promise of immediate resignation from Stevens, they might be well advised to put forth Parnell himself, who is well known, is closely associated with the wildly popular Palin, and just fought a tough and well-run race against an entrenched incumbent. (If Palin appoints Parnell to the Senate and then resigns to become VP, Alaska law would call for the ascendance of Attorney General Talis Colberg, a Palin appointee, to the position of “acting governor” until a special election to fill both executive offices was held in 60 to 90 days.)
In the outlandish event that they pull it off, and Alaskans can be persuaded to pull the lever for Stevens in the expectation of Senator Sean Parnell, Alaska Republicans will have pulled off the single greatest turnaround of the election (unless McCain wins, in which case it will be the second-greatest).
A similar strategy came close to working in 2006, when creepy Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) resigned in disgrace and Republicans, though they were able to replace him as a candidate with State Rep. Joe Negron about a month before the election, were unable to take Foley’s name off the ballot. Negron suffused his campaign with assurances that pulling the lever next to Foley’s name would effectively result in Congressman Negron. He narrowly lost, 50% to 48%, in a year when all Republicans were struggling to stay in office.
Negron was a relative unknown in Foley’s district, whereas Parnell is familiar and well-liked throughout Alaska. Republicans nationwide are facing at least as strong a headwind as they did in 2006, but Alaska is a strongly Republican state, and not necessarily susceptible to the same media tides as the Lower 48. Despite all he had going against him, Joe Negron came close two years ago to salvaging a horrible debacle for the Republicans. Will Parnell, backed by Palin, be able to step in and pick up the pieces left behind by soon-to-be-Inmate Ted Stevens?