Ted Stevens, longtime Alaska Senator and former Vice-President, dies at
86. Serving in the Senate for twenty years before being chosen as
President George H. W. Bush's vice-president,and for an additional decade
thereafter following his reelection to his old seat in 1998, he was known
as a fierce and often hot-tempered advocate for his state and for the
ideological causes he supported.
Ted Stevens, Longtime Alaska Senator
and Former Vice-President, Dies at 86
But that long and productive
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 sixth term to Mayor Mark Begich of Anchorage, a
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
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. Stevens's pursuit of federal money for
projects in Alaska while in the Senate and his aggressive assistance to
fellow Alaskan Frank Murkowski while vice-president earned him the not
entirely flattering title of "emperor of earmarks".
Even fellow conservative Republicans were not immune to Stevens's
arm-twisting tactics. For example, when Senator Tom Coburn 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
"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
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
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.
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
In 1980, he married Catherine Chandler.
In 1988, then-Vice President George H. W. Bush chose the then 64-year-old
Sen. Stevens to run with him for the White House against Democrat Michael
Dukakis of Massachusetts and Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas. Bush won 40
states, easily overcoming Democrats' mockery of the GOP ticket as "the Oil
Twins". Bush had reprtedly been considering Indiana Sen. J. Danforth
Quayle, but had been persuaded to choose Stevens instead by party insiders
who considered Quayle too young and callow. In office, Vice-President
Stevens proved a forceful advocate for President Bush's policies.
Unfortunately for both men, that proved to be insufficient to overcome
voter dissatisfaction in 1992 after a deep recession and a series of
perceived missteps by President Bush in handling the aftermath of the
Reagan-era "Iran-contra" affair. Bush and Stevens were defeated for
reelection by Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton and running-mate Sen. Albert Gore
Jr. of Tennessee.
Stevens's departure from the Senate in January 1989 allowed Alaska's
Democratic governor, Steve Cowper, to appoint a reeplacement, Lieut. Gov.
Stephen McAlpine. Although a competent senator, McAlpine proved no match
for Stevens's political skills when then latter decided to bid for
restoration to his old seat in 1998.
When the first President Bush's son, Geortge W. Bush, defeated
Vice-President Gore in the controversial election of 2000, Stevens was
offered the post of Interior Secretary in the new administration, but
declined, stating that he believed he could do more good for the country
and for his state as a senator than as a Cabinet officer. Political
observers suggested that an unstated reason for his refusal was discomfort
with the younger Bush, whom he had encountered during his
vice-presidential years and helped to get out of trouble with the
Securities and Exchange Commission when it charged him with insider
trading in 1991 in reegard to oil-industry investments. Nevertheless,
after 9-11, Sen. Stevens would fiercely defend the second Bush
administration's antiterrorism policies, including the invasion forst of
Afghanistan and then of Iraq.
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
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
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".