An hour has passed since hearing that Ted Stevens was found guilty on all seven counts, and I have finally been able to coax my jaw into a closed position. After having had the opportunity to discuss the verdict with several fellow Alaskans, I can describe the universal reaction as: stunned. Even those who were happy, were happy through a filter of disbelief, and a realization of the gravity of this verdict. Alaskans regard Stevens, who has been in power since Chrismas Eve 1968, as much more than a Senator. For many, it is as if the elves at the North Pole just learned that Santa was convicted on seven felony counts of reindeer abuse, and selling unsafe toys.
It’s hard to dispute the fact that Stevens has worked hard, and was a stubborn advocate for his fledgling state when he took power. He brought much to the state that anyone with a lesser constitution would never have been able to pull off. And now, stalwart Alaskan icon Ted Stevens has become a frail, almost dottering, 84-year old convicted felon. The mighty have indeed, fallen. So, it is with a mixture of sadness and elation that even Progressive Alaskans view the outcome of this trial.
Power has corrupted. Arrogance has become karma. Justice has been served.
All that said, I have little doubt that Stevens has not been cowed by this experience. It’ll take more than a few goddam lousy felony convictions to get to “Uncle Ted.” Remember, this is the guy who wears Incredible Hulk ties on the floor of the Senate. This is the fist-pounding, curmudgeon that just told Democratic challenger Mark Begich he was “crazy as the Devil” during their latest debate. Ted will not go quietly.
Expect him to go full steam ahead with his campaign. Expect an appeal of the verdict. And expect a few more good chapters of the Ted Stevens story before this is all over.
And, on the other side, expect many many Alaskans to vote for him anyway because that feel that either:
A) This is a trumped up charge and some part of a vast left-wing conspiracy to take down the Alaskan Republican Party or
B) He’s done a lot for the state, all politicians are corrupt anyway, and he deserves a little gravy for all he’s brought to Alaska.
Be reminded that there is nothing legally stopping a convicted felon from running for the Senate, and nothing stopping Alaskans from voting him into office. He can, however, be politely asked to leave by a 2/3 vote of the Senate.
I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that Democratic challenger Mark Begich will win this seat. The most recent polls have the candidates in a dead heat, with Begich showing a statistically insignificant one-point lead over Stevens. Unless there’s a huge unanticipated pity vote, this verdict will tip the election in Begich’s favor.
After witnessing politician after politician in Alaska ride off into the sunset to various private prisons scattered across the Lower 48, we are all struck with that old adage that “power corrupts”. I chatted with Mark Begich the other day and asked him how he was doing. He said he was hanging in there, but that these last few days felt like a lifetime. The next time I see him, I’m going to ask him how he is doing. Then I’m going to grab his tie, and pull him forehead-to-forehead. Then I’m going to look him square in the eyes from two inches away and say, “Don’t. Screw. Up.” The Democrats have a golden opportunity to be the white knights, and restore a modicum of respect to Alaskan politics. But power corrupts unless we are on our guard….however many years, or decades we hold elected office.
So Mr. Begich, be wise, be careful, and treat the Senate seat with care. Actually after four decades, I think you’re going to need a totally new seat. After 40 years, that one is sporting a permanent Stevens butt print, and we need a fresh start.