He's the "Alaskan of the Century." The guy the state's major airport is named after. Our "Uncle Ted."
In Alaska, U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens -- the man who was three heartbeats from the presidency and whom the feds indicted on corruption charges Tuesday -- is as powerful as it gets.
From the price of groceries in far-flung villages to military base expansion, Native health care, road construction and who owns Alaska's fish, Stevens' fingerprints have been on nearly every facet of Alaskan life for decades.
Between 1995 and 2008 alone, Stevens helped bring Alaska about 1,450 projects worth roughly $3.4 billion in federal spending.
That's according to Citizens Against Government Waste, a Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group that sees such spending as anything but a point of pride. They gave him the "Hogzilla" award in 2006.
But what critics call pork, many grateful Alaskans see as gravy.
"Each and every year he's done this yeoman's job of finding spare federal cash and diverting it to Alaska. In the years that we had low oil revenues, that made a critical difference in the state's ability to survive," said Jerry McBeath, a political science professor for the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Possibly no other senator has been so central to his state's public and economic life as Stevens, write the authors of the Almanac of American Politics.
"It could be argued that Stevens is less a legislator than he is a philanthropist in the mode of John D. Rockefeller or Andrew Carnegie," the Almanac says, "although of course he is not spending his own money."
DECADES OF IMPACT
At Tom's Store in the Yup'ik Eskimo village of Newtok, a box of pilot bread -- a Bush staple -- costs $8.07.
Without a postal freight subsidy championed by Stevens, the price would go up about 25 percent, said owner Stanley Tom.
Does Tom think Stevens did anything wrong?
"I don't want to say anything against him because he was helping us for a long time," he said.
In 2000, a The Alaskan of the Year Committee named Stevens Alaska's person of the century. In the next year alone, when Stevens was still chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, projects he supported totalled more than $600 million, from money for a zoo expansion in Anchorage to a ski area in Fairbanks and a fisheries lab in Juneau.
Stevens is the longest-serving Republican senator in the country. As president pro tempore of the Senate in 2003, Stevens was third in the line of succession to become president of the United States.
He was chairman or a ranking member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee for two decades, sending money to state military bases and helping to keep them open.
Stevens pushed for the trans-Alaska oil pipeline in 1973, framed the Native Claims Settlement Act and has called for opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. In 2006, when the Senate rejected his plan to open ANWR, Stevens called it "the saddest day of my life" and told those who voted against it that "I'm going to go to every one of your states, and I'm going to tell them what you've done!"
On days he expects a fight on the Senate floor, Stevens often wears an "Incredible Hulk" tie, and he introduced himself as a "mean, miserable S.O.B." when taking over as chairman of the Appropriations Committee in 1997.
MASTER OF THE SENATE
The Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport lands more cargo than any other airport in North America. It got its name in 2000, after state Sen. Tim Kelly and Rep. John Cowdery proposed naming it after Stevens.
There's also the Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute in Juneau, and the Ted and Catherine Stevens Center for Science and Technology Education in Kenai.
As for whether the airport will keep its name, airport spokeswoman Linda Bustamante said talk of a change is premature and inappropriate.
"The process to rename the airport would not only be costly to Alaskans, but it would also be very time consuming," she wrote in an e-mail.
State Rep. Mike Doogan, D-Anchorage, is a former Daily News columnist who once wrote that Stevens had long ago surpassed oil as Alaska's leading industry.
What was the nickname they used to call the short-and-powerful Illinois politician Stephen Douglas? Doogan asked Tuesday, as news of the indictment echoed across the state?
The "Little Giant?"
That's what Stevens is to Alaska, Doogan said.
"In part because he's a pretty smart guy. In part because he's been there a long time. In part ... because he is by all accounts just a master of doing business in the United States Senate," he said.
"Not all roads lead to Ted Stevens in the end. But most of them do."
Reporter Erika Bolstad contributed to this report. Find Kyle Hopkins' political blog online at adn.com/alaskapolitics or call him at 257-4334.
Landmarks named after Stevens
Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport
Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute: At 66,000 square feet, the Juneau office and lab building is Alaska's largest fisheries research facility.
Ted and Catherine Stevens Center for Science and Technology Education, part of the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska in Kenai.
The Stevens Family Chalet at the Hilltop Ski Area in Anchorage.