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Alaska Gov. William Sheffield escaped impeachment but his opponents...

JUNEAU, Alaska -- Alaska Gov. William Sheffield escaped impeachment but his opponents pushed Sunday for a stinging reprimand by the state Senate that could damage him politically.

The Senate Rules Committee, after conducting 12 days of hearings, refused Saturday to impeach the Democratic governor on charges of political cronyism but criticized Sheffield for 'memory lapses' about a controversial $9.1 million state office building lease awarded to a political backer.

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'There is evidence than an impeachable offense occurred,' the committee said in a draft report to the Legislature, but it 'does not rise to the level of clear and convincing evidence.'

The five-member rules committee, which has only one Democrat, was expected to approve the harshly worded report Monday and submit it for a vote to the Republican-controlled Senate later in the day.

The report is most critical of Sheffield's failure to recall a series of meetings about a lease for state office space in Fairbanks, awarded to a group including political supporter Joseph 'Lenny' Arsenault, a Fairbanks labor leader. The lease was later withdrawn.

'During his testimony the governor exhibited almost verbatim recall of conversations and events that were favorable to him,' the report said, 'and a substantial lack of recall of events that might reflect upon him unfavorably.

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'In fact, the whole pattern of the governor's memory lapses is disturbing,' the report stated.

Juneau Democrat Robert Ziegler charged the report was filled with 'weasel language.'

'If you're going to impeach,' he said, 'put an impeachment resolution on the floor and see if it flies.'

Democrats insisted that Republicans, frustrated that they couldn't find impeachable offenses, were now bent on damaging Sheffield politically.

'It all comes down to what degree of condemnation,' said Anchorage Democrat Vic Fischer. 'They just want to drag him through the mud a little longer.'

Sheffield became the target of the impeachment proceeding after a state grand jury investigated the lease and declared the governor, a millionaire hotel owner, 'unfit for office' but declined to return an indictment. The grand jury recommended the impeachment proceeding.

The rules committee Saturday passed, 3-2, a sternly worded resolution that some senators termed a 'censure,' which said the Senate 'condemns favoritism,' in reference to the lease. The full Senate also will debate that resolution and was expected to vote on it Monday.

The resolution stated that the Senate 'seriously questions the accuracy and credibility of William J. Sheffield's testimony under oath. The Senate finds signficant irregularities in the leasing process surrounding the Fifth Avenue Center in Fairbanks.'

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Rules committee chairman Tim Kelly, an Anchorage Republican, conceded the resolution probably would not pass.

'This thing is over,' he said. 'People just want to go home now. The mood has changed.'

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