A journalist observes life in the far north.
Alaska’s six-time incumbent senator, Ted Stevens, is knee deep in doo-doo. I got called in to work yesterday to help with my newspaper’s coverage.
The federal government is accusing the U.S. Senator of taking gifts with a wink and a nod. He’s faced with seven felonies. This comes as no surprise. Federal agents raided his Alaska home last year. He’s one of several Alaska politicians caught in a large-scale corruption probe. His son, Ben Stevens, is also under a cloud of suspicion.
A few months ago, my boss asked me to compile a folder on Stevens, who was rumored to be on the verge of indictment. Stevens has been a U.S. Senator for 40 years and is the most important political figure in Alaska since statehood. My boss wanted our paper to be ready.
I did a massive Internet search. I trudged through about 15 years of my paper. I read Stevens’ Senate and campaign biographies. I asked Stevens a few biographical questions at the end of a press conference in April. I confess, I even read his Wikipedia entry.
The government has won all of the corruption cases that have gone to trial since this whole mess began. As a reporter who covered crime for five years, I can say the federal government doesn’t often lose. I can’t remember covering a federal trial where there was an acquittal. In Stevens’ case, the feds have a former corporate mogul who admits to sweetening the pot while overseeing renovations to Stevens’ home.
I am sad that a distinguished public servant like Stevens might go to jail. Stevens’ life story, of the rags to riches genre, is very American. He is a poor kid from Indiana who became a pilot and lawyer before making his name helping form one of the most magnificent states in the union. He’s a Republican who favors legalized abortion. Thousands of Alaskan families have been better off because of the programs he finds funding for. He’s got a major airport named after him. The president once called him a great man.
Pundits are already predicting the death of Stevens’ political career. The senator is running for re-election in what is predicted to be the toughest race of his career. He is proclaiming his innocence and vows to fight the charges.
I ate dinner with a friend after work. As my daughter and my friend’s two children played at our feet, she told me that she didn’t care about the indictment. Stevens does his job well, she said. She will probably still vote for him.