Ted Stevens: Power and Purse

Washington Matters

Ted Stevens: Power and Purse

Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, R, the longest serving Republican in the Senate and a self-described "old bull," is probably about to see his tenure ended abruptly, even if he can beat back a seven-count federal indictment alleging corruption and a cover-up. Either way, the case tells us a lot about long-held power and what it can sometimes do. 

Stevens, who ranks seventh in all-time tenure with 40 years in the Senate, had the seniority to claim choice seats of power, including the chairmanships of the Appropriations and Commerce committees and a senior slot on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

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It is on the spending panel with its coveted purse strings that he has shined brightest. In special projects, or earmarks, for his state, Stevens has been a supertanker on direct-delivery, no matter that the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere" -- a project backed by the entire Alaska delegation -- got scuttled. Hundreds of other projects got through over the years without a blink in the news but to much appreciation back home.   

With senior positions, Stevens could both write a law and finance it, add to it and tweak it however he wanted. Few would challenge him, lest he take out his revenge on their own state projects. And he was not shy about threatening that -- once famously personalizing a vote against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as a vote against him, one that he wouldn't forget.


He was also surrounded with "yes, sir" staffers, "thank you, sir" lobbyists and businessmen seeking his ear, and rock-star status, with cheering fans in far-away Alaska for delivering so much federal booty. Even the Anchorage airport is named after him, an honor usually reserved for the departed.

If he's found guilty of corruption for accepting hundreds of thousands in home improvements as a gift and not reporting it, it will mark the end of a legendary career, all for lapses that seem out of place for a longtime and respected Senate veteran like Stevens. I wonder if after so many years of hearing yes when he spoke, he just had a hard time saying no when political benefactors came to him knocking.