Today’s the day. After three unsuccessful attempts to get the case thrown out, jury selection in the Ted Stevens trial will begin today.
Ted Stevens is kind of like Queen Victoria, or Ramses the Great. Many of his ‘subjects’ simply can’t remember a time he wasn’t in power. To imagine someone else in the Senate, filling that seat, is almost impossible. Stevens, now 84, has been serving Alaska in this capacity since Christmas Eve of 1968. This means he’s literally been in the Senate since before most Alaskans were born. He has been President Pro Tem of the Senate. He has been the chair of important committees, including the Senate Appropriations Committee. He has brought multiple millions of dollars to the state over the years. He even has his name on the shiny new granite-tiled Ted Stevens International Airport, which was built mostly with earmark money.
For all the good Stevens has done, there are many who think his time is over. Ex-Governor Walter Hickel, who appointed Stevens to his senate seat in 1968 has even said it’s timefor the very senior senator to retire. Stevens has deteriorated a lot in the last few years. His frequent stammering is almost incomprehensible. His belligerence is alienating many Alaskans who used to revere him. And sometimes he’s just downright embarrassing… Wearing a tie featuring the Incredible Hulk on the Senate floor, and his reference to the internet as a “series of tubes” has begun to define his national image, more than his actual policies.
Then came the summer of 2007. Sitting in my office, minding my business, the news came over the radio. The FBI and the IRS were raiding the home of senator Ted Stevens in the small town of Girdwood, south of Anchorage. People in the Girdwood area started calling local talk radio stations with on-the-scene reports. Gawkers drove to Girdwood and parked outside ‘the chalet’, as Stevens calls his home, to see what was going on.
Photos were being taken of gutters and barbecue grills, electrical outlets and wrap-around decks, and onlookers stared in stunned silence at the black SUVs and the guys in suits and glasses swarming the Stevens’ home. The raid was stunning, and it was the talk of the state for weeks. Then, finally on July 29, 2008, one year later, the indictment came. Stevens was accused of accepting more than a quarter of a million dollars in home renovations, and personal gifts that were never paid for, and were never reported on his Senate disclosure forms. The source of these gifts, which included raising the entire house and adding another floor, was Veco, an oil services company. The CEO, Bill Allen, and the VP, Rick Smith plead guilty to bribery, and is now ‘telling all’ to the FBI and the IRS.
Sarah Palin is not the only soap opera in Alaska politics.
The witness list for the trial includes some well-known names: longtime friend Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), ailing Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and former Secretary of State, Colin Powell. Quite a list of power brokers. Now here’s the interesting part, just to give it a little Alaskan twist.
Also on the witness listare a Fairbanks strip club manager, and the underaged ‘coke-for-sex’ former mistress of key prosecution witness, former CEO of Veco, Bill Allen. And there are all kinds of accusations about paperwork that the newly sold and renamed Veco Corp. (now CH2M Hill) refuses to turn over to the defense.
So for those of you who are suffering from Sarah-fatigue, take heart. Alaska is an endless source of the strange, the sordid, and the knee deep muck of Alaskan politics.
Here’s the Ted Stevens classic. Enjoy the “series of tubes”.