McCain Asks Stevens to Step Down. Palin Tiptoes Through the Muck.

28 10 2008

“It is clear that Senator Stevens has broken his trust with the people and that he should now step down. I hope that my colleagues in the Senate will be spurred by these events to redouble their efforts to end this kind of corruption once and for all.”

So says John McCain in a written statement. He joins ranks with other national Republican leaders in quickly distancing himself from the man who, as a former President Pro Tem of the Senate, was a mere two heartbeats away from the presidency.

Sarah Palin has stopped short of throwing Stevens under the bus. But she did stand there with her arms folded, shaking her head, and watching McCain throw him under the bus. Stevens might view this as “depraved indifference.”

I remember when Palin was running for governor. In the general election, she ran against former two-term Democratic governor (yes, we had one of those once!) Tony Knowles. Whose endorsement helped Palin, a virtual unknown, soar to victory over this battle-tried political veteran? You guessed it – Uncle Ted. It can be argued that Palin’s TV commercials featuring the Stevens endorsement, put her over the top.

To take a quick glance at Palin’s earlier political involvement:

Palin’s name is listed on 2003 incorporation papers of the “Ted Stevens Excellence in Public Service, Inc.,” a 527 group that could raise unlimited funds from corporate donors. The group was designed to serve as a political boot camp for Republican women in the state. She served as one of three directors until June 2005, when her name was replaced on state filings.

So, one might argue that Palin’s political career had its start in the metaphorical living room of a convicted felon.

Remember that Ted Stevens was indicted on the charges for which he now stands convicted back in July of 2007. We knew this was coming. The FBI has a pretty good track record of conviction for Alaska legislators who have crawled in bed with oil services company, Veco. As a matter of fact, that track record is 100%.

Ever since that time, Palin has been trying to negotiate her relationship with Stevens. And he with her. Stevens has endorsed McCain and Palin. She has not endorsed him. Neither has she endorsed Mark Begich, Stevens’ Democratic opponent. Now that the verdict has come down, and Stevens has been found guilty of seven felony counts of failure to disclose gifts and services received from Veco, she has still fallen short of condemning him or asking him to step down.

She’s tiptoeing around the issue by saying:

“This is a sad day for Alaska and for Sen. Stevens and his family. The verdict shines a light on the corrupting influence of the big oil service company that was allowed to control too much of our state. … As governor of the state of Alaska, I will carefully monitor this situation and take any appropriate action as needed. In the meantime, I ask the people of Alaska to join me in respecting the workings of our judicial system. I’m confident Sen. Stevens will do what’s right for the people of Alaska.”

Palin, if she does think there’s a reasonable chance that she will have to step down from her place on the national stage, and return to lowly Alaska, does not want to alienate the significant number of Stevens fans that still abound. And the Republican Party in the State has told everyone that convicted felon status should not affect their vote. So, taking the tough national Republican stand and demanding he step down would be burning a lot of bridges here in Alaska.

There has been some widespread speculation about what Palin will do if Stevens does step down, or if the Senate votes to remove him from his seat. Until recently, Palin would, as Governor, have been able to fill that seat with an appointment. But that is no longer the case.

In another bizarre chapter of Alaskan politics, the Frank Murkowski administration covered that one. Frank Murkowski was Alaska’s junior senator from 1980-2002. He decided to run for Governor, and won. That left, an empty senate seat. What to do….what to do…. Murkowski decided to fill the seat, as he was legally allowed to do at the time, with his daughter, Lisa Murkowski. There was a huge uproar. Cries of nepotism! Furious Democrats! Disgruntled Republicans who were vying for the coveted seat. Nobody was happy.

So, when the next election came, there was a ballot initiative which declared that it should not be legal for Governors to make Senatorial appointments. We had learned from THAT mistake. We’re not THAT stupid….no siree. However, at that very same election, the citizens of Alaska re-elected Lisa Murkowski. No, I have no explanation for that one.

This is one of those stories in which the post-election chapters will be far more fascinating that what’s happening now. Right now the national spotlight is shining on Palin and Stevens. But when the lights click off, the party goers leave, and we’re left with a sink full of dirty dishes and some half-inflated balloons, the true picture will emerge.

Uncle Ted is due back in the state tomorrow….to start campaigning. Let the games begin.

UPDATE:

Well, now, according to the New York Times, Sarah Palin has abandoned her thin veil of neutrality, and her red stiletto-heeled foot has met Ted’s butt. KATHUNK… That was the sound of Stevens getting booted under the Straight Talk Express bus.

“I had hoped Senator Stevens would take the opportunity to do the statesman-like thing and erase the cloud that is covering his Senate seat,” she said in a statement. “Alaskans are grateful for his decades of public service, but the time has come for him to step aside. Even if elected on Tuesday, Senator Stevens should step aside to allow a special election to give Alaskans a real choice of who will serve them in Congress.”

Guess she decided to burn those bridges to nowhere after all. There are many Alaskans who still stand by Stevens, and this will not play well to “the base.” Palin and Murkowski now stand firmly on opposite sides of this issue. I’ll be interested to see how this plays out.

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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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