Former Sen. Ted Stevens on Thursday broke the public silence he has maintained since his election defeat in November, delivering a vintage pro-development speech to the Alaska Industry Support Alliance that steered clear of the issues that cost him his job.
Introduced to a standing ovation that lasted most of a minute, Stevens urged the business group to organize to fight "extreme environmentalists," whom he said would prevent Alaska from assuming its role in providing the world with energy and other resources.
Stevens described his speech to a reporter as his "first public appearance" since his trial and election defeat, though he had given some brief remarks at a renewable energy conference at Chena Hot Springs in August and has been reported out and about in gossip columns in Washington, D.C.
In his speech, he said that Alaska still has huge potential to develop oil, gas and coal reserves. As for a gas line, he said the state wasted time and effort bickering over a route and in debating new taxation. In the meantime, other projects are coming to fruition elsewhere -- often in places that created tax incentives.
The friendly crowd of oil-industry related businessmen and women interrupted his speech once with applause, then stood and cheered him for another minute when he finished his 20-minute address.
Stevens, 85, the longest serving Republican senator, ran for re-election last year under the shadow of a long-running corruption investigation. A week before the election, he was found guilty by a jury in Washington, D.C., of failing to disclose gifts from a person who would have been one of the main figures in the room in earlier days -- Bill Allen, the ex-chief executive of the state's once leading oil-field contractor, Veco Corp.
Charges against Stevens were thrown out in April when the Justice Department admitted it failed to turn over favorable evidence to his lawyers. Now the prosecutors and perhaps some FBI agents are themselves under investigation by the Justice Department and a special prosecutor looking into possible criminal contempt.
In between handshakes and well wishes as he made his way to the podium, Stevens said he wouldn't talk about his personal situation while those investigations are pending.
"Well, I'll talk about that sometime -- I don't think it's time to talk about that yet," Stevens said.
In the brief interview, Stevens said he was spending more time commuting between his homes and offices in Washington and in Alaska than he did while a senator.
"I'm still trying to (go over) all the things I have accumulated over almost 52 years of government service," he said. "We call it memorabilia. Everything has a memory. The question is, what do you do with all this stuff?"
Stevens said his health is good, and he walked easily and swiftly through the room. He said he still works out every day.
"This is the first time I've made comments since I left the Senate. Then I'm going to fly back and take my wife on a trip for her birthday." He wouldn't say where they were going, only that it was in a different country. He said he just told his wife, Catherine, about the 10-day vacation.
"It's really a trip of a lifetime and I'm looking forward to it. We haven't had such a trip ever in our marriage. Got some time now."
Of the last year or so, Stevens would only give a quote from someone else.
"Winston Churchill once said, 'If you're going through Hell, keep going,' " he said.
By RICHARD MAUER