Ted Stevens dies at 86
August 17, 2010
Ted Stevens, the former United States senator who was killed Monday night in a plane crash at the age of 86, helped shape modern Alaska with federal laws and billions in federal dollars.
Serving in the Senate for 40 years, longer than any other Republican, he was known as a fierce and often hot-tempered advocate for his state.
But that long and productive Senate career ended ignominiously. In October 2008, a federal jury in the District of Columbia found that Mr. Stevens had concealed more than $250,000 in gifts and convicted him on seven felony counts. Eight days later, he lost a bid for a seventh term to Mayor Mark Begich of Anchorage, a Democrat.
The following April, however, the conviction was thrown out by Judge Emmet G. Sullivan at the request of Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. Mr. Holder said prosecutors, who had been chided by the judge for withholding information from the defense, had concealed interview notes in which the chief witness against Mr. Stevens told a story different from the one he told on the stand.
Mr. Stevens said the case against him had initially shaken his faith in the judicial system. But after Mr. Holder’s and Judge Sullivan’s actions, he said, “My faith has been restored.”
Mr. Stevens was one of five people killed in the crash in a mountainous area of southwest Alaska as their plane was heading to a fishing lodge, Gov. Sean Parnell of Alaska said Tuesday. Four others on the plane survived. Mr. Stevens had survived a plane crash in Alaska in 1978, suffering injuries while his first wife, the former Ann Cherrington, and four others were killed.
Mr. Stevens liked to remind Alaskans of what he had done for them. “From frozen tundra,” he said in his 2008 campaign, “we built airports, roads, ports, water and sewer systems, hospitals, clinics, communications networks, research labs and much, much more.” He drew large amounts of military spending to the state as well as money for small businesses.
Mr. Stevens’s legislative work in the 1970s included passing major bills settling native land claims that had been left in limbo when statehood was established in 1959; creating the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, which made the state rich; and protecting the state’s fisheries from exploitation.
In 2000, the State Legislature named Mr. Stevens the Alaskan of the Century, saying he “represents Alaska’s finest contribution to our national leadership.” In his farewell speech on Nov. 20, 2008, he told the Senate, “Working to help Alaska achieve its potential has been and will continue to be my life’s work.”
But he was roundly and repeatedly criticized for the billions he funneled to his state. The watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste said Mr. Stevens regularly got Alaska more dollars per capita than any other state, often through earmarks, the pet projects that lawmakers attach to legislation.
“Ted Stevens was a prolific procurer of pork-barrel projects,” said Tom Schatz, the group’s president, when Mr. Stevens left the Senate. “While his friend Senator Robert Byrd was called ‘the king of pork,’ Ted Stevens was the emperor of earmarks. Since we started counting in 1991, Senator Stevens has accumulated 1,452 projects worth $3.4 billion. That is a record amount.”
Mr. Stevens fiercely defended earmarks, saying Alaska had special needs because the federal government owned much of its land; because the state’s rugged terrain and severe weather required particular help; because, as the 49th state, Alaska needed to catch up with its elders; because its proximity to Russia made it strategically important; and because its oil and gas were national resources.
When Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, tried to shift $452 million that had been allocated for two bridges in Alaska, the so-called Bridges to Nowhere, to rebuild a Louisiana highway wrecked by Hurricane Katrina, Mr. Stevens warned that he would wreak havoc.
“If you want a wounded bull on the floor of the Senate, pass this amendment,” he said. The measure was defeated, 82 to 15, but Alaska later dropped the project.
Mr. Stevens’s conviction, for seven violations of the Ethics in Government Act, did not allege that he had traded any of this spending for personal favors. The bulk of the gifts, which he failed to report on a Senate form, consisted of renovations to his home in Girdwood, Alaska. They were paid for by Bill Allen, a longtime friend and the owner of an oil services construction company.
Testifying in court, Mr. Stevens said that his wife, Catherine, had been in charge of the renovation and that he did not know what Mr. Allen had provided.
After the government moved to throw out his conviction, within months of his election defeat, Mr. Stevens expressed dismay at the political cost, both to him and to his party, saying, “It is unfortunate that an election was affected by proceedings now recognized as unfair.”
Theodore Fulton Stevens was born on Nov. 18, 1923, in Indianapolis, the third of four children of George A. Stevens and the former Gertrude S. Chancellor. The family later moved to Chicago, where his father lost his job as an accountant after the 1929 stock market crash. His parents divorced, and after his father died, young Ted moved to Manhattan Beach, Calif., to live with an aunt.
Joining the Army Air Corps in World War II, Mr. Stevens flew transport planes over the perilous “Hump” route in the eastern Himalayas to take supplies into China from India. He was awarded two Distinguished Flying Crosses and two Air Medals.
After the war, he graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, and Harvard Law School. He joined a law firm in Fairbanks, Alaska, in 1953 and soon afterward became the federal prosecutor there. In 1956, he went to Washington, D.C., to work in the Department of the Interior on Alaska statehood.
Moving back to Alaska, he opened a law firm in Anchorage, served in the Legislature and made two unsuccessful runs for the Senate before he was appointed to fill a vacancy in December 1968. He was elected to fill the last two years of the term in 1970 and easily won re-election until his defeat in 2008. Republicans made him their Senate whip in 1977, though he was defeated in a bid for majority leader by Bob Dole in 1984.
In December 1978 Mr. Stevens was aboard a twin-engine Lear jet when it crashed at Anchorage International Airport while returning from the capital, Juneau. Five people on the plane, including Mr. Stevens’s first wife, Ann, 49, and the pilot and co-pilot, were killed. Mr. Stevens, one of two passengers to survive, was hospitalized with head, neck and arm injuries.
In 1980, he married Catherine Chandler.
Besides his second wife, survivors include five children from his first marriage, Susan B. Covich of Kenai, Alaska, Elizabeth H. Stevens of Washington, Walter, of Scottsdale, Ariz., Theodore Jr., of Menlo Park, Calif., and Ben, of Anchorage; a daughter from his second marriage, Lily I. Becker of San Francisco; and 11 grandchildren.
Mr. Stevens often expressed contempt for those he called “extreme environmentalists” for their opposition to development in Alaska.
“Most of them are hired people who are just hucksters selling slick-backed magazines and national memberships,” he said in 1990. But in 2006, he opposed construction of the Pebble Mine, a vast open pit to extract gold, copper and molybdenum, saying it would threaten the Bristol Bay salmon fishery.
He was critical of environmental objections to drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve. In 2003, after another effort to open up the area for drilling had failed, he said: “People who vote against this today are voting against me. I will not forget it.”
Though generally conservative in his votes, Mr. Stevens questioned President Ronald Reagan’s level of military spending, supported the Title IX legislation to give women equal access in institutions receiving federal aid, backed spending for public radio, supported a ban on smoking in federal buildings and endorsed tougher fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks.
When he faced a tough Senate debate, Mr. Stevens wore a tie featuring the image of the Incredible Hulk, the comic book superhero.
“I’m a mean, miserable S.O.B.,” he once proclaimed as appropriations chairman.
Indeed, in the halls of Congress, he was known for his temper; it was voted the “hottest” on Capitol Hill in 2006 in a poll of Congressional staff members by Washingtonian magazine.
Mr. Stevens did not argue with the characterization. “I didn’t lose my temper,” he once said. “I know right where it is.”
Article quoted from http://nytimes.com