Donald Craig Mitchell captured Ted Stevens' coming into the country in his 2001 Alaska history book, Take My Land, Take My Life: The Story of Congress's Historic Settlement of Alaska Native Land Claims, 1960-1971. Here's an excerpt from pages 220 to 242.
An intellectually energetic man on the short side of medium height Theodore Fulton "Ted" Stevens was born in 1923 in Indianapolis. His parents lived in Chicago where his father was employed as an accountant until the Depression ended the work and his eyesight failed. When Stevens was six his parents divorced. When the family disintegrated, Stevens, his father, and three siblings returned to Indianapolis to live with Steven paternal grandparents. In 1938, by which time his father and grandfather both had died of cancer, the fifteen-year-old Hoosier moved to California to live with an aunt and uncle in Redondo Beach, a breezy shore town o the Pacific Coast Highway south of Los Angeles.
During his years as a "Fighting Seahawk" at Redondo Beach High Stevens surfed, worked before- and after-school jobs, and found time for an extracurricular career that included working on the High Tide, the school newspaper, and serving as president of the Junior Hi-Y Club (a service society affiliated with the YMCA) and the Barnstormers, a student theatre group. Senior year he was a member of the Boy's "R" Club, the Fighting Seahawks' lettermen's society.
There is a sunlit Ozzie and Harriet Nelson texture to the southern California beach town life Ted Stevens lived during the early 1940s, but there also is a darker side to the story. During Stevens' junior year at Redondo High there was a Japanese student club on the campus. By the end of Stevens' senior year, however, the club had disbanded since its members and their parents by then had been relocated behind the barbed wire fences of the concentration camps into which the army herded the west coast Nisei when the nation went to war with Japan.
When he graduated from high school in 1942, Stevens enrolled as an engineering student at Oregon State College. But democracy's fight (in the guise of the draft) came calling, so he enlisted in the army air corps. By March 1943 he was attending a corps flight school in Montana. In 1944 the rookie aviator received his wings and was ordered to the China theater, where he piloted cargo planes, a contribution to America's victory for which he subsequently was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and a medal from the Nationalist Chinese government.
When the war ended and First Lieutenant Stevens mustered out, instead of unpacking his slide rule, he abandoned engineering and enrolled in the political science department at UCLA. He graduated in 1947 and then headed east to attend Harvard Law School on the G. I. Bill. When he graduated in 1950, he moved to Washington, D.C., to work for Northcutt Ely.
In 1929 Ely, a recent graduate of Stanford Law School, had accompanied Ray Lyman Wilbur, the president of Stanford, to the national capital when President Herbert Hoover appointed Wilbur secretary of the interior. During his tenure as Wilbur's executive assistant, Ely specialized in water policy. In 1933 when Hoover departed the presidency and Wilbur and Ely left the Department of the Interior, Ely opened a Washington law office. By 1950 when he hired Ted Stevens, Ely had a bustling natural resource law practice.
Deciding to go to work for Northcutt Ely was Ted Stevens' first career move of consequence. His second was striking up a friendship with Elmer Bennett, an attorney six years Stevens' senior who worked on the staff of Republican Senator Eugene Millikin of Colorado, one of the states involved in a convoluted lawsuit over the allocation of Colorado River water in which the Ely law firm was involved. As a consequence of his friendships with Ely and Bennett, in January 1953 when Dwight Eisenhower succeeded Harry Truman as president, Ted Stevens knew at least two Republicans who knew other Republicans who controlled patronage jobs in the new administration.
One of the other Republicans was Bennett's boss, Eugene Millikin. When President-elect Eisenhower had the temerity to appoint his cabinet without consulting the Republican senators who controlled its confirmation, Millikin was one of the senators who met with Eisenhower to set him straight (after which Senator William Knowland, the Republican majority leader, announced that Eisenhower had agreed to clear the remainder of his patronage appointments). With the support of Senator Millikin, Elmer Bennett arranged to be appointed legislative counsel of the Department of the Interior.
However, instead of following Bennett into the Department of the Interior, Ted Stevens abruptly departed Washington to take a job in Fairbanks, Alaska.
Why would an ambitious twenty-nine-year-old Harvard-educated attorney abandon the national capital a month after it had been taken over by the political party of which he was a member and in which he had useful friends for a small, hardscrabble mining town as far up the road as the road went? When asked, Stevens said that by November 1952 when Dwight Eisenhower was elected president he had decided to leave Northcutt Ely's employ because Ely did not allow the young associate attorneys he hired to become partners in his firm. Wanting to remain in Washington, Stevens arranged to take a job as an attorney in the solicitor's office at the Department of the Interior. But before he could be hired, the Eisenhower administration imposed a temporary hiring freeze as part of the new president's effort to reduce spending.
By happenstance, 3,500 miles away in Fairbanks, in February 1953 an attorney named Jack Petro committed suicide. At the time of his death Petro had been employed at Collins and Clasby, a small Fairbanks law firm. In addition to practicing law, Charles Clasby served on the board of directors of Usibelli Coal Company,79 which operated a mine near Fairbanks. The Northcutt Ely law firm handled Usibelli Coal's legal work in Washington, D.C. During the course of that representation Charles Clasby met Ted Stevens, and after Jack Petro's death, he offered Stevens Petro's job.
In 1949, between his second and third years at the Harvard Law School, Stevens had worked as an intern in the office of the US. Attorney in Los Angeles. An attorney in that office had spoken so highly of George Folta, the US. district judge in Juneau, that during Stevens's third year, when he applied to several judges for a job as a law clerk after graduation, one of the judges to whom he wrote was Folta, who did not hire him. A year later when he was working for Northcutt Ely, Stevens accompanied Ely to Capitol Hill to a meeting of the House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs during which Alaska statehood was discussed.
According to Stevens, those slender prior contacts had piqued his interest in the territory. So after discussing the pros and cons of doing so with his wife (the former Ann Cherrington whom he had married the year before), Stevens accepted Charles Clasby's offer to join the Collins and Clasby law firm. Loading their possessions into their 1947 Buick, by March 1953 Ted and Ann Stevens were on the road up the Alaska Highway.
When asked more than forty years later why he accepted Clasby's offer, Stevens replied that because of the hiring freeze at the Department of the Interior he needed a job and he and his wife were "two young kids with no money" who decided to make the move out of a sense of adventure. In 1968, Ann Stevens recalled that she and her husband made the move on "a six-month trial basis."
Over the years, there has been speculation that, rather than as an adventure, Stevens moved to Fairbanks with the idea of using his political connections inside the Eisenhower administration to be appointed US. attorney, and then to use the position to launch a political career in the territory that by 1953 the conventional wisdom believed eventually would be a state.
Northcutt Ely recalled that when he asked Stevens why he had decided to quit Ely's law firm, Stevens replied that he wanted "to settle in the West and get into politics." While that may have been his long-term ambition, the adamancy with which Ted Stevens denies that he moved to Fairbanks with the intention of being appointed US. attorney suggests that the speculation is misplaced.
But the facts regarding Stevens' appointment as US. attorneys are as follows.
Several days after Dwight Eisenhower's inauguration as president in January 1953, the Alaska Republican Party Central Committee demanded that "all Democratic appointees [in Alaska]" resign their patronage jobs."' One of the Democratic appointees who did so was Robert McNealy, the U.S. attorney in Fairbanks, who submitted his resignation effective February 1." However, rather than accepting it, the newly appointed Eisenhower officials at the Department of Justice asked McNealy to stay on the job until the president appointed his replacement;" so Charles Clasby knew when he offered Stevens a job at Collins and Clasby that McNealy's position was vacant and would be filled by a Republican political appointee.
Winter passed into spring and then summer, and in July when his successor had not been named, McNealy notified Fairbanks District Court Judge Harry Pratt that August 15 would be his last day in office.
When McNealy departed, on August 31 Pratt named Ted Stevens to serve as U.S. attorney until the president appointed McNealy's replacement.
Stevens was a peculiar choice, since he had little to no trial or criminal law experience and, having arrived in Alaska less than six months earlier, was something of a carpetbagger. Who, if anyone, discussed Ted Stevens' appointment with Pratt before he made it is not known. What is known is that when the appointment was announced, a majority of the members of the Fairbanks Bar Association were outraged, but had no candidate for the permanent appointment until December when the association met and the members in attendance voted to support Carl Messenger, the legal officer at the nearby air force base.9' Two weeks later the Alaska Republican Party Committee for the Fourth Division (in which Fairbanks is located) also endorsed Messenger. But the decision on the permanent appointment would be made 3,500 miles to the east.
In 1961 former Eisenhower Chief of Staff Sherman Adams wrote that Eisenhower "carefully avoided giving the Republican National Committee any responsibility in the selection of government officials." Adams' assertion that the president administered the federal bureaucracy without regard to political considerations is disingenuous since, pursuant to Eisenhower's agreement with Senators Millikin and Knowland, Charles Willis, the White House assistant responsible for personnel, routinely cleared presidential appointments with the committee.
And happily for Ted Stevens and unhappily for Carl Messenger, Alaska's Republican National Committeeman and Committeewoman, Robert McKanna, a retired Fairbanks businessman, and Margaret White, who lived in Juneau, six hundred air miles south of Fairbanks, wanted the president to appoint Stevens U.S. attorney.
In February 1954, McKanna (and presumably White) flew to Washington to attend the Republican National Committee's winter meeting. Stevens came to town a week later to attend an orientation for new U.S. attorneys even though he was not one.
The extent to which McKanna, White, and Stevens lobbied senior Eisenhower political appointees inside the Department of Justice is not known (except to Ted Stevens), but after Stevens departed the capital Attorney General Herbert Brownell wrote to Eisenhower on February 19 recommending Stevens' appointment as U.S. attorney. In a cover letter Deputy Attorney General William Rogers informed Charles Willis that "the Honorable William F. Knowland, Republican Senator from the state of California, recommends Mr. Stevens," a "member of the Republican Party" who also had "been recommended to the attorney general by the Republican National Committee."
After confirming Stevens' political credentials, Willis passed Brownell's recommendation on to Sherman Adams, who passed it on to Eisenhower, who on February 25, 1954, sent Stevens' nomination to the Senate.
Three years later, when Elmer Bennett was hustling for a promotion inside the Department of the Interior, California Republican Northcutt Ely lobbied California Republican Senator Thomas Kuchel to lobby Secretary of the Interior Fred Seaton to give Bennett his promotion. Did Ely lobby William Knowland to recommend Ted Stevens to Herbert Brownell? At Elmer Bennett's request, did Eugene Millikin?
However it happened, as the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported, when the White House announced it, Stevens' permanent appointment as U.S. attorney brought "an end to continuing controversy." "While many approved of his appointment and the grand jury recently backed him," the News-Miner explained, many others objected "because of his youth and what was termed lack of experience."
Although inexperienced, U.S. Attorney Stevens promptly set about making a reputation as the Tom Dewey of the North -- a crusading crime fighter on a rough-and-tumble frontier so wide open that the summer he assumed office gambling was commonplace and a city councilwoman accused the police of regularly extorting protection money from local prostitutes. According to Niilo Koponen, a yellow-dog Democrat who was homesteading near Fairbanks at the time and who decades later still was amused by the recollection: "Stevens' public image was this rough tough shorty of a district attorney who was going to crush crime. Strapping on the shoulder holster and going and raiding gambling houses and houses of ill repute. And generally putting his foot in a bucket. To dull the town's lascivious shine, in March 1954 U.S. Attorney Stevens captained a city-wide drive against "vagrants, prostitutes and other undesirable persons." And as Koponen remembered, he accompanied the Fairbanks police on gambling and vice raids packing his own revolver.
Not everyone was put off by the pretension. Ken Jensen, Bob Bartlett's former staff assistant and a Fairbanksan who later became a trial lawyer himself, remembers US. Attorney Stevens as "a hard-working, hard-driving, able prosecutor." And that also was the view of the man who controlled local public opinion-C. W. Snedden, the conservative Republican publisher of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. In 1956 when the Dewey of the North hung up his holster, Snedden's editorial page was gushing in its praise:
He has been faced, while in office, with a difficult crime situation, and he has handled every type of case from narcotics violations to murder.
He has felt the heavy hand of pressure groups who would "open the city" to gambling or vice. He has been plagued by the problems of a shortage of assistance and a tremendous load of work. Yet, in our opinion he has carried out his duties honestly, conscientiously and effectively. He has enforced the law, prosecuted violators with vigor, and resisted all pressure put on him to "overlook" illegal activities.
While the rhetoric is shamelessly uncritical, on balance, the assessment was fair.
For a wannabe politician, a reputation as a crime fighter is a blue-chip credential. However, Ted Stevens had a larger ambition than seeking election to public office in Fairbanks. The chance to move down opportunity's road came in March 1956 when Secretary of the Interior Douglas McKay promoted Elmer Bennett into the secretary's office and Bennett lobbied McKay to give his friend Ted Stevens his old job of legislative counsel.
Two summers previous when he had toured Alaska, McKay had ridden the Alaska Railroad from Anchorage to Fairbanks. At the time the National Park Service was trying to rid itself of E. W Lauesen, the concessionaire who operated the hotel at Mount McKinley National Park. When McKay's train, which had stopped at the park on the trip north, reached Fairbanks, the secretary complained about the situation to Stevens, who immediately ordered Lauesen to vacate the hotel, which Lauesen immediately agreed to do. As a result, when Elmer Bennett urged McKay to hire his friend, according to Stevens, "[the secretary] remembered this instant [sic] in Alaska. So the call came to me from Bennett to come down."
When Stevens returned to Washington in June 1956, Elmer Bennett was there to greet him. Douglas McKay, however, was not, having resigned in April to return to his home state of Oregon to run for the Senate. In McKay's stead was Fred Seaton, a Nebraska newspaper publisher and longtime Eisenhower confidant. For Ted Stevens, Seaton replacing McKay as secretary of the interior was another career-altering fortuity since, unlike McKay whose support had been tepid, Seaton enthusiastically supported Alaska statehood. Stevens, who posted a sign on his door that proclaimed his office "Alaskan Headquarters," was equally enthusiastic, so much so that inside the Department of the Interior he soon was known as "Mr. Alaska."
Insofar as statehood was concerned, the legislative counsel's job was to staff the Department of the Interior's participation in drafting the Alaska Statehood Act. But Mr. Alaska also spent considerable taxpayer-paid time staffing the Alaska Statehood Committee, the pro-statehood lobby. To help, Stevens arranged for the department to hire Marilyn Atwood, the daughter of Statehood Committee chairman Robert "Bob" Atwood, the conservative Republican publisher of the Anchorage Daily Times, to maintain index cards on each member of Congress and churn out the position papers, write the speeches, and make the telephone calls that are the nuts and bolts of lobbying. As Stevens later described the operation he and Atwood ran out of their Department of the Interior office:
I had made a study on each member of the Senate and this goes on now into ... whether they were Rotarians or Kiwanians or Catholics or Baptists and veterans or loggers, the whole thing. And we'd assigned these Alaskans to go talk to individual members of the Senate and split them down on the basis of people that had something in common with them. We more or less, I would say, masterminded the House and Senate attack from the executive branch. We planted editorials in weeklies and dailies and newspapers in the district of [members of Congress] we thought were opposed to us or states where they were opposed to us so that suddenly they were thinking twice about opposing us."
Mr. Alaska knew, but did not care, that his activities were unlawful. As he would boast in 1977: "We were lobbying from the executive branch, and there's been a statute against that for a long time."
Alaska Delegate Bob Bartlett supported the end that Stevens was pursuing by misdemeant means, but Mr. Alaska's expenditure of public tax dollars for private political purposes did not go unnoticed. After a telephone call in which Stevens lectured Alaska's most popular politician why, in the midst of the statehood fight, Alaska Republicans intended to run a strong candidate against him in the 1958 election, Bartlett remarked in a private letter to a friend, "[w]hether [Stevens] is talking with sure knowledge or just talking I don't know. But at a guess I should say that many taxpayers' dollars are used for telephone calls to the Interior Department from Alaska and vice versa on matters more political than executive."
The lobby firm of Stevens and Atwood escaped public exposure. In 1958, Congress passed the Statehood Act, and in January 1959, Dwight Eisenhower signed the proclamation that admitted Alaska into the union. The Alaska Statehood Committee disbanded and Bob Atwood, C. W. Snedden (who also was a member of the committee), and the other committee members who witnessed the signing soon thereafter departed the capital.
However, Mr. Alaska stayed on. Continuing to slipstream in Elmer Bennett's wake, in 1957 when Secretary Seaton appointed Bennett as solicitor (the Department of the Interior's chief legal officer), Legislative Counsel Stevens inherited Bennett's job as assistant to the secretary. Three years later when George Abbott (who had succeeded Bennett as solicitor) resigned in September 1960, Seaton appointed Stevens to take Abbott's place. Unfortunately for the new solicitor, John Kennedy's victory two months later in the 1960 presidential election instantaneously transformed Stevens and every other Republican political appointee into lame ducks. As a consequence, the White House did not send Stevens' nomination as solicitor to the Senate until January as "one of the last acts of the outgoing Eisenhower administration." So not only was his nomination not confirmed, Kennedy's inauguration put Stevens out of work.
In November when a visitor to his office asked what he would do after the inauguration, Stevens responded that he intended to return to Alaska and run for Congress. Considering that he was a thirty-seven-year-old political unknown who had resided in the state he wanted to represent for less than four years and had not lived there at all in almost half a decade, the ambition was audacious. But it was no more audacious than the ambition of Mike Gravel, a substantially less well-connected wannabe politician, who the month previous had lost his second election (for the Anchorage city council).
Although Mike Gravel and Ted Stevens had the same ambition, the strategies each man pursued to advance it were different. Gravel's was to win a seat in the Alaska House of Representatives and then leverage that position into a statewide candidacy. Ted Stevens, by contrast, decided to start at the top. Moving his wife and five children to Anchorage, in 1961 Stevens opened a law office, joined the obligatory civic organizations, and in April 1962 filed for the Republican nomination for Ernest Gruening's seat in the U.S. Senate.
To give Stevens his due, his doing so had no downside consequence. In 1962, no more prominent member of the Alaska Republican Party thought Gruening could be beat, so the nomination was Stevens' for the asking. Since Gruening was expected to win, if the vote count by which he did so was not humiliating, in losing Stevens could establish his bonafides as a statewide candidate. And who could say, maybe lightning would strike, since Stevens' friends from the Alaska Statehood Committee, Bob Atwood and C. W. Snedden, were the publishers of the major Anchorage and Fairbanks newspapers during one of the last elections before television began exercising a pervasive influence over the outcome of Alaska election contests.
In the August primary election Stevens easily defeated his competitor for the Republican nomination, an obscure big game guide who also had never held public office. He then set out after Gruening, whom he attacked as "a cantankerous old man" whose "back-biting techniques" and "insatiable appetite for personal publicity" had "embittered his own colleague, Alaska's senior Senator Bob Bartlett."
The charge was accurate, but it was an insider's complaint about which voters knew little and could not have cared less. More important, if Ted Stevens had been Mr. Alaska inside the Department of the Interior, for nearly a quarter of a century Ernest Gruening had held the same title at the location that most mattered. Playing to that strong suit, the seventy-five-year-old incumbent, whose name was known from Barrow to Ketchikan, refused to mention his opponent by name and disdainfully refused Stevens' challenge to meet face to face because there was "nothing to debate with one who has so little experience in Alaska affairs."
Gruening was reelected, but in losing Stevens garnered a respectable forty-one percent of the vote. Although the rookie candidate had run a credible campaign, having missed in his reach for the brass ring, Stevens fell in after the 1962 election behind Mike Gravel (who had been elected to the Alaska House of Representatives in the election Stevens lost) and the other young Turks of both parties who were elbowing each other at the bottom of the post-statehood Alaska political food chain.
Wasting no time in joining the tussle, two months after the November election Stevens ran again, and this time was elected president of the Anchorage Republican Club, the rump organization that had given Wally Hickel his start in Alaska Republican politics. He also staked out a position inside the increasingly John Birch Society-influenced Alaska Republican Party as a moderate who in 1964 would lead a group of like-thinking party activists that purged right-of-right conservatives from the leadership of the Alaska Republican Party prior to the Republican National Convention that selected Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater as its nominee in that year's presidential election. At the same time that he was busy positioning himself as a voice of middle-of-the-road moderation, Stevens hustled up a client list for his law practice that included Atlantic Refining, Gulf and Mobil Oil, the Anchorage Westward Hotel, and, thanks to C. W. Snedden, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner; it was a blue-chip roster that did no harm to his reputation as a dependable young man on the rise.
In 1964 when the opportunity next presented itself, Stevens filed again for public office, this time, more modestly, for a seat in the Alaska House of Representatives. As Wally Hickel would two years later, Stevens ran in the 1964 election as a boomer who promised Anchorage voters that his "main concern legislatively" would be to create an industrial development commission. As partisan a Republican as they come, he also disingenuously urged Democrats and Independents to forget that he was neither and vote for the candidate they thought was "most capable of public service," which (it went without saying) Stevens was sure he was. In November, in an election in which Lyndon Johnson defeated Barry Goldwater in Anchorage with sixty percent of the vote and the Goldwater-led Republican ticket crumpled statewide like "a discarded campaign poster," Ted Stevens was one of only four Republicans who were elected to Anchorage's fourteen at-large seats in the Alaska House of Representatives in an election in which Mike Gravel finished first and Stevens sixth.
Since there were only nine Republicans in the forty-member House, for the next two years Stevens sat on the back bench in the legislature that Speaker of the House Gravel used as the springboard for his run against Ralph Rivers. However, after Stevens was reelected in the November 1966 election, his second tour of legislative duty was decidedly different.
Reversing the win-loss scorecard from the 1964 election, in 1966, Republican candidates running on the ticket Wally Hickel captained won eleven of Anchorage's fourteen at-large seats in the Alaska House of Representatives. Among the fourteen victorious candidates, Ted Stevens finished first. And in January when the members of the House Republican caucus assembled to select their leaders, Stevens, who in that era sported a crew-cut and bow tie, was elected majority leader, the second most important job in the body.
Majority Leader Stevens' principal responsibility was ramrodding Governor Hickel's legislative agenda through the House. By all accounts, it was a responsibility he discharged with unwavering loyalty to a governor who frequently was not sure what his agenda was. As Mike Bradner, a Democrat who served in the House during Stevens' tenure as majority leader, would remember of Stevens' efforts to stay whatever course Wally Hickel set: "If Ted was, like only Ted can do, carrying an issue vociferously at a hundred and eighty miles an hour one way and suddenly the word came down from the governor that the governor didn't want that-the governor wants something different ... Ted would turn around and go the other direction. It was like he'd never said the other words."
For a man who thought he should be giving orders rather than taking them, serving as Wally Hickel's political man servant must have been a hard swallow. But of Ted Stevens' years of services rendered-from running Northcutt Ely's errands in Washington to Douglas McKay's at Mount McKinley Park, to the Alaska Statehood Committee's on Capitol Hill, to Wally Hickel's on the floor of the Alaska House of Representatives-his loyalty to a governor whose erratic decisions frequently made it impossible to know what loyalty required would return the greatest reward.
Before it did, however, Stevens made a last reach for the brass ring on his own: in January 1968, he announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for Ernest Gruening's Senate seat. In 1962 no more prominent Republican had wanted the nomination, but that now no longer was the situation, since in 1968 the eighty-one-year-old Gruening was vulnerable. The strongest Republican candidate for Gruening's seat was Howard Pollock who, after Mike Gravel had drawn Ralph Rivers' blood in the 1966 Democratic primary election, had defeated Rivers for Alaska's seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Pollock's popularity was such that in March 1968 when Joe Napolitan, the campaign consultant who was advising Mike Gravel, conducted a poll, voters in Alaska's major towns preferred Pollock to both Gruening and Gravel by almost two to one. But Pollock filed for a second term in the House.
Years later when Mike Gravel asked him why he did so, Pollock said that he did not file for the Senate because he wanted to run for governor. If that was so (and it is difficult to believe since in 1968 the conventional wisdom expected Wally Hickel to run for a second term in 1970), Pollock's gubernatorial ambition nicely complemented the ambition of a man who wanted Pollock out of the Senate race as much as Mike Gravel and Joe Napolitan wanted him out: Elmer Rasmuson, the mayor of Anchorage and the richest man in Alaska.
The fifty-nine-year-old Rasmuson had been born in 1909 in Yakutat, the northernmost village in southeast Alaska, where his father, Edward Rasmuson, a Swedish immigrant, had been sent by the Covenant Church to minister to the Tlingit Indians. In 1910 when he was appointed U.S. Commissioner at Yakutat, Edward enrolled in a correspondence course to study law. In 1914 Edward and his wife and two children relocated to Minneapolis, where Edward continued his studies by reading the law in the office of an attorney who was a member of the Covenant Church. In 1915 the Rasmusons returned to Alaska when Robert Jennings, the district court judge in Juneau, hired Edward as his law clerk. In 1916 when Edward was admitted to the bar, the Rasmusons moved to Skagway, where Edward opened a law office.
One of his first clients was the Bank of Alaska, which was headquartered in Skagway. In 1918 he became a member of the bank's board of directors, and in 1919 was appointed president. Under Edward Rasmuson's stewardship, the Bank of Alaska would become the largest financial institution in the territory. The success allowed Rasmuson to take his family on vacation in Europe and to send his son Elmer to Harvard.
In 1930, Elmer Rasmuson graduated from Harvard with a degree in accounting, after which he remained on campus to complete the course work required for a Ph.D. in economics. In 1933 he relocated to New York, where in 1935 he joined the Arthur Anderson and Company accounting firm. In 1943 when declining health forced his father to retire, Rasmuson, the thirty-four-year-old heir to the territory's first business (as opposed to gold mining) fortune, returned home to take over the management of the National Bank of Alaska (as the Bank of Alaska in 1950 would be renamed).
Like his father, who from 1932 until his death in 1949 was Alaska's Republican National Committeeman, Elmer Rasmuson, until his death in 2000 at age ninety-one, was a politically active Republican. However, like many wealthy scions, he avoided public office until 1964 when he took the plunge and was elected mayor of Anchorage. Finding the water fine, Rasmuson decided to stand for Ernest Gruening's senate seat because, as he privately explained to Bob Bartlett: "I'm tired of doing what I'm doing...[so] it sort of comes down to a choice of retiring to the West Indies or running for the Senate."
Setting the latter plan into motion, in April 1967 Rasmuson flew to Washington to tell Howard Pollock to stay out of the race. As Bob Bartlett noted to himself in a confidential memorandum that he wrote after lunching with Rasmuson: "[Elmer] has told Pollock he would be well advised to stay where he is where he has a fairly safe seat and has indicated to Pollock that the going would be mighty tough if Howard were to choose to run against Elmer in the primary."
Bob Bartlett, who by 1967 had known Rasmuson for more than twenty years, knew exactly how tough. His memorandum continued:
In a telephone call from Anchorage the other day I was told that Elmer is keeping close track of [Democratic Party fundraiser and Mike Gravel patron] Barney Gottstein's notes at the National Bank [of Alaska] totaling about $300,000. He has let Barney know that all these are under scrutiny and my informant said Barney is highly agitated. It is not that he is not worth $300,000 but it would be very embarrassing if he were called upon to dig up that money all at one time. It is quite obvious, considering this and other hints, that Elmer very decidedly intends to use the power of his fortune not only in campaigning but in keeping potential competitors out of the primary... Elmer's campaign will be a cold-blooded, professional affair.
It also would be expensive. In 1969 Mike Gravel estimated that Elmer Rasmuson outspent Ted Stevens in the 1968 Republican primary election $300,000 to $60,000. However much Rasmuson spent, the sum was enormous. Billing himself as the "People to People" candidate, during primary summer he traveled more than 12,000 miles. In addition to spending his own money, he also brazenly spent his bank's. National Bank of Alaska employees were paid for the time they spent working in the campaign, and on one occasion the candidate was caught traveling to a campaign event on the bank's airplane. The National Bank of Alaska also produced an Elmer Rasmuson-narrated "Heritage of Alaska" television and radio series that the bank paid to broadcast on stations throughout the state.
Unappreciative of the irony, Ted Stevens, who during his years as Mr. Alaska had easily rationalized his unlawful expenditure of taxpayer money to lobby Congress, was outraged that Elmer Rasmuson was spending stockholder money to advance his own ends. Two weeks before the primary Stevens angrily charged that "all over the state the facilities of the National Bank of Alaska and the officers of the bank are involved in my opponent's campaign." "I knew I was going to have to run against the wealthiest man in the state," Stevens railed, "but I didn't know I was going to have to run against the bank too." Had he raised the issue early and hard, Stevens might have turned the National Bank of Alaska's felonious involvement in a federal election into a campaign issue. But he did not, and on primary election day Elmer Rasmuson won the right to face off against Mike Gravel in November by 1,209 votes.
According to people who knew him, Ted Stevens, who now had lost two statewide elections, was emotionally devastated by the defeat, since realizing his life's ambition now seemed permanently out of reach. If he had won the Republican primary election, it cannot be known whether Stevens could have defeated Mike Gravel in the general election. When Joe Napolitan polled on the question, voters in Alaska's major towns preferred Gravel to Stevens fifty-one percent to thirty-five percent,'38 and the poll did not include Native voters in village election districts. But poll results are a statistical conjecture. What is not is that in November 1968 when Mike Gravel defeated Elmer Rasmuson, Ted Stevens was down, and as an electable statewide candidate, quite probably out.
If he had stayed out, the story of Alaska Natives and their land would have ended very differently. But four months after Elmer Rasmuson seemingly ended Ted Stevens' political career, an odious skullduggery in which Stevens had been a ringleader resurrected it. On December 23, 1968, Alaska Governor Wally Hickel announced that he was appointing Ted Stevens to fill the remainder of Bob Bartlett's term in the Senate.
The story of how Wally Hickel came by the power to give Ted Stevens what Alaska voters had twice denied is one of the most cynical sagas in modern Alaska political history.
In the November 1966 election in which Hickel was elected governor and Ted Stevens and other Republican candidates assumed control of both houses of the Alaska state legislature, Bob Bartlett was reelected to the Senate with more than seventy-five percent of the vote. Four years earlier Ernest Gruening had easily defeated Ted Stevens. All told, since 1958 Republican candidates had lost five Senate elections.
But if neither Bartlett nor Gruening could be beat, maybe one of them would die. The possibility was not statistically unlikely. The previous September the sixty-two-year-old Bartlett, an episodic alcoholic who chain-smoked and never exercised, publicly revealed that he recently had suffered a heart attack. In October Ernest Gruening, who was seventy-nine years old, had been hospitalized longer than expected when complications arose during his second hernia operation. So one of the two dropping dead was a contingency worth planning for, and planning was needed because if a US. senator died in office the Alaska election code required the governor to appoint a member of the senator's party to his seat.
Setting about the ghoulish work, in February 1967 all fourteen Republican members of the Alaska Senate cosponsored a bill that included a provision amending the election code to eliminate the party affiliation requirement. The purpose of the so-called reform was no secret. "Let's not hide the issue," Democratic Senator Nick Begich taunted the conspirators when the bill was called to the floor. "You can't win an election to the United States Senate, so you want to come in the back door by an appointment."
The unspoken Republican retort was, "You bet." On a party-line vote the bill passed the Senate. Six days later Majority Leader Stevens jammed the bill through the House, again on a party-line vote. Wally Hickel allowed the bill to become law without his signature, after which the preemptive theft was forgotten until December 11, 1968, when Bob Bartlett died of complications that arose after open-heart surgery.
Before going under the knife the senator tried to cheer up his staff by reporting in a memorandum to his Washington office that he had reminded his surgeon that "he was carrying a heavy responsibility in hacking away at me" because if I die on the table I have "a strong feeling, although not the definite knowledge, that the governor of Alaska would not appoint a successor of my political faith." Shrewd pol to the end, Bob Bartlett knew his man.
But which Republican would Hickel bless? The maneuvering began immediately. When asked less than forty-eight hours after Bartlett's death, Alaska Republican National Committeewoman Marjorie Fitzpatrick reported that four self-nominated candidates were "marshalling their forces" to lobby Hickel for the appointment: Elmer Rasmuson; Howard Pollock; Carl Brady, an Anchorage businessman and former member of the Alaska Senate, and Ted Stevens.
For unknowing Alaska Republican Party regulars, Rasmuson, who had been their most recent candidate for the job, may have seemed the logical choice. But the blood between Rasmuson and Hickel long had been so bad that, as Ed Boyko years later reminisced, "Hickel would have appointed Beelzebub first." Howard Pollock was a possibility, but his appointment would give Democrats another chance to regain the House seat to which Pollock had been reelected the month before.
Carl Brady was one of Wally Hickel's closest friends, and Hickel previously had impetuously privately promised Brady that if Bartlett or Gruening died on his watch Brady would be given the appointment. But Brady was the wrong man for the work; he had lost his bid for reelection to the Alaska Senate and had not made the kind of mark in the legislature that gave confidence that he could help Wally Hickel on Capitol Hill. And what Hickel needed was help, since by the time he selected Bartlett's successor, Hickel's confirmation as secretary of the interior was in potentially serious trouble.
By the process of elimination the man left standing was Ted Stevens.
Looking back, Cliff Groh would recall that "Hickel appointing Stevens was not as much of a surprise to me as it was to many others because Stevens was always Hickel's guy when Hickel was governor and Stevens was in the legislature. When the chips were down Hickel called on Stevens to produce for him in the House and Stevens did." In 1989, Wally Hickel confirmed Groh's recollection.
He wasn't much of a friend [Hickel recalled], but Ted Stevens is a survivor. And I knew that. He was a young guy. But he's the kind of guy that's a survivor. He's not a PR person. He's the opposite. But he knew how to get things done. It was a difficult decision, whew boy, because he had lost two elections. It was tough. My wife helped me with that. Jack Coghill [a conservative Republican legislator from Nenana] made one comment. Jack's an old friend. That surviving thing, [Jack] totally agreed. In fact, he came up with the thought.
So Ted Stevens was given what he twice could not win. The future, however, was fraught with uncertainty because in November 1970 the senator would be required to defend his seat in a special election. The identity of the Democratic candidate against whom Stevens would compete was unknown. But if the election was close, the outcome well might be decided by Native and non-Native voters, who by December 1968 were becoming increasingly bitterly divided as a consequence of the unresolved status of Native land claims.
The possibility that the Native land claims dispute might end Ted Stevens' career in the Senate before it legitimately began is a grand irony. Mike Gravel, who had been elected with Native votes, publicly supported the Alaska Federation of Natives' demand for a generous settlement, but he had little understanding of aboriginal title as a legal theory or of how Congress's acceptance of one, rather than another, settlement proposal would alter the increasingly convoluted land ownership map of Alaska. While he had visited several of the larger villages in 1965 with the Legislative Council and had briefly stopped at most of the smaller ones in 1966 on his whirlwind election tour, he had spent little real time in Native villages.
During the three years he served as U.S. attorney, Ted Stevens, by contrast, had regularly spent time on business in a number of interior Indian villages, so he had a working knowledge of day-to-day village life. Trained as a lawyer, and having served as legislative counsel and solicitor of the Department of the Interior, he understood Tee-Hit-Ton Indians v. United States, the 1955 U.S. Supreme Court decision that implied the existence of unextinguished Native aboriginal title. Having helped to write the Alaska Statehood Act, he also understood the unsettled legal conflict between the act's protection of aboriginal title and its grant of land selection rights to the state of Alaska. Most important, more than any other participant in the story of Alaska Natives and their land, he understood that a generous land grant would benefit white Alaskans as much as it would Alaska Natives. Although that fact is self-evident today, for his conservative Republican businessmen friends, in 1968 Ted Stevens' insight was a heresy.
Stevens saw the trouble coming early on. In November 196o the visitor to his office at the Department of the Interior to whom Stevens confided his plan to return to Alaska and run for Congress was La Verne Madigan, the executive director of the Association on American Indian Affairs (AAIA). Madigan had made the appointment to introduce herself to the new solicitor and discuss several Indian matters, of which Alaska Native land claims was not one, although Native claims were on Stevens' mind. In a letter to Oliver La Farge, Madigan subsequently described Stevens' views on the subject and its risk to his ambition:
Speaking of Alaska, Ted said that he thought all forces should join to get Alaska Native claims settled as quickly as possible. He said he thought the Natives should receive land, not just money. He said the [white] people of Alaska "hate the federal government," and that someone should educate them to realize that if the Natives were given their land and the State took other land, that much less would be left for the federal government. [After telling me that he intended to return to Alaska and run for Congress] he said, gloomily, that the Natives are all Democrats, and that the whites will never back him if he takes the attitude on Native lands that he expressed to me.
Stevens felt so strongly about the subject that when President-elect Kennedy announced that he would nominate Stewart Udall to succeed Fred Seaton as secretary of the interior, Stevens sought the Arizona congressman out in his Capitol Hill office. "I told him that I thought the most complex problem we had to solve was the land claims issue and urged him to make it a front-burner issue," Stevens said of the unsolicited advice that Udall ignored for the first six of his eight years as secretary. "He, I think to a great extent, misread what I said to him. It's like anything else. I was an outgoing [Republican] political appointee, he was an in-coming [Democratic] secretary. He was courteous, but didn't take a great deal of time trying to understand the scope of the problem."
Two years later Stevens tried to make Ernest Gruening's failure to persuade Congress to settle Native land claims a campaign issue in the 1962 Senate election, but few voters, Native or non-Native, cared. As Stevens subsequently described the attitude: for "the guy on the street, [the need for Congress to settle Native land claims] wasn't an issue." Stevens nevertheless tried to make it one by talking up the problem during the campaign, and then offering a solution that was half a decade ahead of its time.
When the week-old Tundra Times asked Ernest Gruening how he thought Native claims should be settled, the senator responded that the validity of Native land rights first had to be decided by the Court of Claims. But when the Tundra Times asked him, Ted Stevens readily conceded that there was "no question" that Native land claims were legally valid, and then described his idea of how to settle them. Unlike Gruening (who in 1965 would object to the idea of conveying land to the Minto Indians because "it would just sit there without being used"), Stevens first reasoned that Alaska Natives were as interested as any other human beings in making money. Assuming so, then if they were conveyed legal title to large tracts of federal land that contained commercially marketable natural resources, Native landowners would be as enthusiastic as non-Native landowners to log timber, contract with oil companies to explore for oil, and otherwise develop their resources. If that was true, Stevens concluded, then why not grant Alaska Natives the same "right to select lands" that the Statehood Act granted to the state of Alaska, and then convey legal title to the land "to an Alaska Native land corporation, wholly owned by Alaskan Natives and managed by them?"
Five years later Barry Jackson (who served with Stevens in the Alaska House of Representatives and was a friend with whom Stevens undoubtedly discussed the subject), recommended to the members of the Rural Affairs Commission land claims task force drafting committee that the bill Jackson would write should require Alaska Natives to organize state-chartered business corporations.
Thirty years after the enactment of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, the idea of using state-chartered corporations to implement the settlement today seems mainstream. In 1962 it was not. But even La Verne Madigan was impressed with the innovation of Stevens' thinking. When a campaign scheduling conflict prevented him from attending the June 1962 meeting of representatives of interior Athabascan Indian villages that Al Ketzler organized and La Verne Madigan financed at Tanana, Stevens sent Kay Hitchcock, the president of the Alaska Native Rights Association, a letter that he asked her to distribute at the meeting in which he described his settlement proposal. After reading it, Madigan touted Stevens' plan to the AAIA Board of Directors as the only admission by any political candidate that Native rights constitute a problem in Alaska and the only constructive proposal of an alternative to reservations as a solution. Stevens suggested in his letter, as he had previously in his conversations with me, that the word and concept of reservation be eliminated from thinking about Alaska and that consideration be given to a program of Native land selection to match the present program of State land selections from the public domain. It is his thought that revenue from exploitation of the resources of Native land selections should go into a common fund which would be used for the benefit of all Alaskan Natives. The idea offers an excellent point of departure for fresh thinking.
In 1962, Stevens had a plan for settling Native land claims, but when he lost the election, no means to implement it. In 1969, thanks to Wally Hickel, he finally had both.
In January when the Ninety-first Congress convened and Scoop Jackson gaveled the first meeting of the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs to order, Mike Gravel, who had been elected to the Senate with Native votes, many of which he had attracted by promising to persuade Congress to settle Native land claims on terms that the Alaska Federation of Natives would consider fair, occupied Ernest Gruening's seat on Jackson's left. Ted Stevens, whose right to remain in the Senate would be decided in less than two years in an election that might turn on Stevens' success at delivering on Gravel's promise, sat on Jackson's right.
The pressure on Stevens was considerable, and in 1969, Ted Stevens was a man who handled pressure poorly. As is every adult's, Ted Stevens' personality is the cumulative product of its owner's lifetime of attempts to cope with the emotional vagaries of childhood and adolescence. In addition to the humiliations his short stature may have required him to endure occasionally from grade-school bullies, being abandoned by his mother after his parents' divorce and the early death of his father may have engendered a deep-rooted insecurity. That speculation is psychobabble. But whatever the cause, Ted Stevens' rote response to news he does not want to hear is to rage at the messenger.
When asked his recollection, a former law partner years later would cringe at remembering hearing Stevens through the wall of their Anchorage law office berating clients. After his appointment to the Senate, Stevens' public explosions of truculent temper were so frequently embarrassing that Ann Stevens made her husband read self-help books-to no avail. As one observer would remember: "[Stevens] would lose his temper about the stupidest things. Even when you agreed with him, he got mad at you for agreeing with him."
"He rubbed a lot of people the wrong way," Bill Van Ness, the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs' special counsel, would remember of Ted Stevens' first years in the Senate. "And one of the people he rubbed the wrong way was Scoop." Van Ness's recollection of the first committee meeting Stevens attended is worth quoting:
Scoop always held that meeting at the start of a new Congress to let the members have their say about what they thought the priorities were. Ted showed up and he just took over the meeting: "The first priority of this committee had to be settlement of Alaska Native land claims and this committee hadn't had the guts to do it at statehood." It was a disaster. [Stevens] and Mike [Gravel] got in a shouting match right at the conclusion of the meeting. They were interrupting each other and very rude to each other. Clearly they were political antagonists. Some of the older members were pushing back deeply chagrined. They'd never seen anything like this. As [Stevens and Gravel] left the committee room they were still yammering at each other. I was in between them. I can't remember whether there were serious punches thrown, but it clearly was headed that way. There were fists raised or about being raised as they boiled out into the hallway. All of the reporters that covered Alaska were there. They both gave statements to the press and then Scoop came out and took over the news conference... That's how it hit off, and it was that way for eighteen months, two years.
By April, when Jackson held the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs' first hearing on S. 1830, Stevens' education in Senate protocol had made small progress. "Ted was very loquacious and proceeded to lecture the chairman," Ed Weinberg, who was in the audience, recalled. "Jackson said, Now just a minute. You're new here and I want to tell you how these things are handled.' He treated Ted Stevens like Ted was an errant school boy and, in effect, made him sit in the corner with a dunce cap on. Jackson wasn't about to let Ted Stevens take over the hearings and the framing of this legislation." But if Ted Stevens was his own worst problem, Mike Gravel was suicidal.
Gravel's great strength-a perspicacious political cunning-was an asset for winning elections. But in the U.S. Senate cordiality and coalition-building oil the atrophied machinery of governing, and seniority controls the pace. In that environment Mike Gravel was a misfit. As Gravel years later would rationalize:
I was a small real estate operator in Alaska. Though I'd been a student of history and had always been a student of politics, and had been in the [army] counter-intelligence corps, that was my only interface with government. I'd never worked for a big corporation. So I really was-in every sense of the word-from very, very humble beginnings. The reason I was a maverick was that I did not respect power. And, of course, the Senate and the House are power cathedrals. So if you come into the cathedral and you don't genuflect like everybody else does, they look at you like there's something wrong with this person. It's not that I didn't enjoy the office. I enjoyed it for what you could do with it. I was still this messianic young man who wanted to change the world. And I really believed it.
True as far as it goes, that post-hoc rationale makes no mention of the two self-destructive acts that crippled Mike Gravel's Senate career before it began.
By 1968 when they left the Senate, Bob Bartlett and Ernest Gruening's personal relationship long since had deteriorated into mutual loathing. But a veneer of feigned cordiality enabled the two men to work together when self-interest required that they do so. Mike Gravel and Ted Stevens' relationship, by contrast, never existed.
Stevens by nature is a party loyalist. For that reason, after he lost the 1968 Republican primary election to Elmer Rasmuson, Stevens campaigned for Rasmuson in the general election. According to Mike Gravel, at each stop on his Ketchikan-to-Nome campaign tour, Stevens talked Rasmuson up by trashing Gravel's performance as speaker of the Alaska House of Representatives. Two months later when both men arrived in Washington to be sworn in as senators, Stevens sought Gravel out to suggest that, since they would need to work together, political bygones should be bygones and they should try to become friends. Gravel's response? "I told him I didn't want to be friends. And I mean this is the conversation: "I don't want to be your friend, Ted. I didn't appreciate you going around the state and lying about me.' And that was the end of that."
Even if Stevens' rhetoric on the campaign trail had been as defamatory as Gravel thought it was, when compared to the importance of the work the two men had ahead, the infraction was a misdemeanor. But as Bill Van Ness's recollection of their behavior at the first meeting of the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs attests, Mike Gravel's refusal to forgive a political punch he thought Stevens had purposely thrown to land below the belt, combined with Ted Stevens' propensity for bullying bombast, doomed their ability to pursue common goals. "After we had that first meeting when I said I didn't want to be his friend, we never had a warm conversation," Gravel would recall of their nonrelationship. "We'd talk about things. I'd joke with him. He's got a sense of humor. But he didn't use it on me unless I was the butt of it."
Donald Craig Mitchell is an attorney in Anchorage, Alaska. From 1977 to 1993, Mitchell was in Washington, D.C., working as then-vice-president, then-general counsel of the Alaska Federation of Natives. Mitchell is the author of Sold American: The Story of Alaska Natives and Their Land and Take My Land Take My Life: The Story of Congress's Historic Settlement of Alaska Native Land Claims, which in 2006 the Alaska Historical Society recognized as two of the most important books ever written about the history of Alaska.
Alaska Dispatch Publishing