Ted Stevens. End of an Era.

27 10 2008

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.

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Catherine Stevens to Testify, and Emails to Be Turned Over to Prosecution…

14 10 2008

With the nation’s eyes on Palin and the Presidential race, Alaskans have not forgotten the importance of the other races to be decided on November 4th. Indicted senior Senator Ted Stevens is holding his own in the polls against Democratic challenger, and mayor of Anchorage, Mark Begich. Stevens is an institution who is as much a part of Alaskan history as the gold rush. Frankly, there are plenty of Alaskans who wouldn’t hold it against Uncle Ted even if he did “get a little something extra” for himself. They almost feel he deserves it, even though they might not say it out loud.

The presence of Palin on the ticket this year will bring out many Republican voters who may just cast their vote for Ted while they are there. So, the outcome of this trial is pivotal to Alaska’s chance of sending a Democrat to the Senate.

Here’s the latest on the Stevens trial.

WASHINGTON – Sen. Ted Stevens’ wife, Catherine Stevens, is tentatively scheduled to testify today or Wednesday in her husband’s corruption trial, although the senator’s lawyers haven’t said whether she will.

Stevens himself is at the end of the list, as a potential final witness. It’s not clear whether he will testify either, however, and the judge reminded Stevens – out of the presence of the jury – that he was under no obligation to do so.

“It’s your choice, you don’t have to say anything,” said U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan.

Tuesday morning, Judge Sullivan ruled that thousands of e-mails sent by Stevens’ wife, Catherine, will be turned over to federal prosecutors, who had first asked for them more than a year ago.

Communications between Catherine Stevens and her husband “will be relevant to show the material elements of the charges in the indictment, including defendant’s knowledge, intent, and motivation for concealing the benefits he received from VECO,” prosecutors argued.

They added that “in particular, we anticipate that certain documents at the time of the renovations will reflect that both Catherine Stevens and defendant knew they had not paid for the VECO work, and documents thereafter will reflect that Catherine Stevens and defendant took steps in 2004 to mislead the press when the media was investigating the costs associated with the renovations.”

Judge Sullivan said he saw no reason for prosecutors not to have the documents and ordered Stevens’ lawyers to turn them over.

The 84-year-old senator is on trial for lying on the Senate financial disclosure forms he’s required to file each year. He’s charged with accepting gifts and home renovations worth more than $250,000, chiefly from Veco Corp. and its former chief executive, Bill Allen, who was the star witness for the prosecution.

The renovations in 2000 and 2001 doubled the size of the Stevens’ home in Girdwood, expanding it from a small, A-frame cabin into a two-story retreat with multiple decks, a Jacuzzi tub and a Viking outdoor grill. Prosecutors have been laying out a case that much of the work, including the decks as well as plumbing and a complete electrical overhaul, was paid for by Veco.

In another interesting development, while the legal limit for gifts is $250, the communication the prosecution asked for includes documents relating to anything of value given to Stevens, his wife Catherine, and his daughter, Lily, including “any documents relating to diamond earrings.”

I have a feeling those diamond earrings weren’t the under $250 kind.