Politics

Ted Stevens' 40-year Senate career ends on his birthday

By Tony Hopfinger

U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, the longest-sitting Senate Republican in history, has lost his seat to Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, who now commands a 3,724-vote lead over the senator.

"It doesn't appear that we have enough ballots on hand for him [Stevens] to make up the difference," said Gail Fenumiai, director of the Alaska Division of Elections, which still must count some 2,500 votes.

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Stevens' defeat comes on his 85th birthday and three weeks after he was convicted in federal court for lying about gifts he received from friends, including oilman Bill Allen.

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"I am humbled and honored to serve Alaska in the United States Senate," Begich said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. "It's been an incredible journey getting to this point, and I appreciate the support and commitment of the thousands of Alaskans who have brought us to this day."

A message left with a Stevens spokesman was not immediately returned.

Stevens assumed his Senate seat in 1968—the same year the North Vietnamese Army launched the Tet Offensive, the Beatles recorded "Revolution", and Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were assassinated. It was also the year when Alaska was discovered to be sitting atop the largest oil fields in North America. A crude relationship was born between Alaska's politicians and its economic lifeblood—one that helped keep Stevens in office for 40 years, and now has ended his career as the longest-serving Senate Republican in history.

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To Alaskans, he was affectingly known as "Uncle Ted." His legacy is seen everywhere in Alaska, from running water in Eskimo villages to Air Force bases to fishing and maritime laws to the revamped Anchorage International Airport named in his honor.

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As Alaska's oil reserves fell into decline in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Uncle Ted found creative ways to keep the state afloat, using his powerful perch as Senate Appropriations chairman to steer tens of billions of dollars to Alaska. He represented the old-guard politicians and businessmen who believed you must pacify the oil industry, even champion it, if you were to do Alaska right; because they knew very well that had it not been for oil Alaska might have remained a backwater populated by more bears than people.

In the end, Stevens' close relationship to oilman Bill Allen got him into trouble.

Stevens allowed Allen, once the owner of the oil-contracting firm VECO, to remodel his Girdwood home in 2000. Allen spent tens of thousands of dollars on the project, and Stevens never disclosed the money on his Senate disclosure forms. He was found guilty last month on seven federal counts of lying about the home renovations and other gifts he received from Allen and friends.

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"It's kind of sad that after 40 years of hard work that [Stevens] he is taken down by what I think is kind of a bogus charge," said Jack Roderick, a Democrat and former Anchorage mayor who practiced law with Stevens in the 1960s. "But we couldn't find a better person to replace him with. Mark Begich is a terribly talented guy."

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Stevens' loss Tuesday means Democrats have now gained at least seven seats in the Nov. 4 election with two races, in Minnesota and Georgia, still undecided. Begich's victory saves the Senate from having to decide whether to expel Stevens, the first senator since 1981 found guilty of a felony.

Many fellow Republicans called on him to resign, including presidential candidate John McCain and his running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin. Senate Republicans on Tuesday delayed a vote on expelling Stevens from their caucus and stripping him of his committee posts to wait the election outcome.

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