The Curtain Goes Down on Ted Stevens.

21 11 2008

Today was the end of an era. Ted Stevens took the floor in the U.S. Senate for the last time. The first time was in 1968, before most Alaskans were born.

He actually did get voted out of office, but it took seven felony convictions, a strong centrist Democratic challenger, and an Alaskan Independence Party candidate endorsed by Ron Paul to do it. This is a good thing, because my only options had he won were wearing a bag on my head, or moving to Canada.

Last night, in downtown Anchorage, at the Snow City Cafe, Mark Begich celebrated his very belated victory with supporters. How could it have possibly taken this long? How could the race have been so close?

Listen to Ted Stevens’ farewell address.

As an Alaskan, albeit a left-leaning one, there have been times, I’ve actually felt sorry for Stevens. As I listened to him recount his experiences taking Alaska from a fledgling state with little infrastructure, to where it is today, with a highway system, hospitals, airports, and other things that improve the quality of life here, I had a moment of sadness. What a way to end his career. What a stupid mistake. What a shame.

Lost in this flickering moment of nostalgia, watching this old, beaten man, I heard the words “radical environmentalists” come out of his mouth.  I immediately snapped out of it, feeling like I’d been hit in the face with a wet fish.  I suddenly remembered what it is I can’t stand about this guy.

Then, as he finished up and yielded the floor for the last time, his Senate colleagues did something I have never seen.  The violated Senate protocol and gave the man a standing ovation, for almost a full minute.  That’s right United States Senators from across the nation, rose to their feet, and applauded a man who is stepping down, not because he is voluntarily handing the reins to a new generation, but because his seven felony convictions blew the election for him.

It was like watching the villagers cheering for the head on the pike.

The Stevens love-fest went on for some time, with contributions from both sides of the aisle.

“May all the roads that you have built, Ted, rise up to meet you,” said [Sen. Robert] Byrd in a variation of the Irish proverb. Byrd, 91, whose age has made him prone to outbursts on the Senate floor, shouted out “Amen, Amen!” while Stevens’ friend, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, spoke.

Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, described the close across-the-aisle friendship his own wife and Stevens’ wife have. Sometimes, Lieberman said, people forget that senators are “normal people” with ordinary homes and lives in Washington.

During the tribute, Stevens’ wife, Catherine, and his daughter Beth sat in the front row of the upper gallery of the Senate, surrounded by nearly 100 friends and staffers. Dozens more crowded in the seats lining the Senate chambers.

As Stevens concluded his remarks, many in the Senate gallery and all of the senators and aides on the floor of the Senate offered a standing ovation. Many of his staffers and friends walked out of the Senate chambers with red-rimmed eyes, dabbing at their tears.

While they applauded, Stevens sat. Then he stood, shaking hands with the longest-serving U.S. senator in history, Byrd, and the top two leaders of the Senate, Reid and McConnell. Finally, Stevens embraced Inouye, a man he called “his brother” during his speech.

“The Bible tells us, the Old Testament, two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor, for if they fall, one will lift up his fellow,” said Reid, the Senate majority leader, referring to the friendship between the two men from the 49th and 50th states.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, after the Bible quote, called Stevens a “lion” of the senate.

Is this the same Harry Reid that called for Stevens to step down and promised that if he were elected, and returned to the Senate, his colleagues would vote to expel him?

I’ve given up trying to figure out what kind of magic Ted Stevens has.  It’s like that old radio show….The Shadow.  It’s like Stevens has “traveled to the Orient and learned the secrets of clouding men’s minds.”  But I do feel better that it isn’t just Alaskans that have this cloud problem.  I just watched the majority of the United States Senate give a standing ovation to a convicted felon.

Why?  Only the Shadow knows……

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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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