A journalist observes life in the far north.
Conviction, according to my ratty old American Heritage Dictionary, means to be found or proven guilty of a crime. That’s what happened to U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens. The senator is a felon now because, at best, he turned a blind eye while a millionaire friend, who is also a crook as it turns out, took his old house and made it a comfortable chalet. Federal law says you are supposed to pay attention to your private affairs and report gifts like that. Stevens didn’t. After spending nearly 40 years in the Senate, the body’s longest serving Republican ever, not to mention a former federal prosecutor, should have known better.
Stevens says he knows in his heart that he did not do what the government says he did. I don’t think he is referring to the botched financial disclosure forms when he says that. Stevens is probably thinking about the unspoken implication, which is that his votes are for sale. I believe him. If the government could prove that Ted Stevens was for sale, they would have charged him with more than screwing up on some paperwork.
But I do think that after shepherding billions of dollars in federal aid to Alaska, helping the people here in almost every way, making some Alaskans very rich because of government contracts, while his own salary has remained below $200,000, while watching his personal investment portfolio stumble at times, Stevens probably felt the generous house remodel and other gifts were his due. A Harvard Law School graduate, Stevens would likely be a rich man today had he worked in the private sector instead of represented the state of Alaska in the U.S. Senate. In fact, the senator said as much in the 1980s.
The standard-bearer for the Republican Party, John McCain, says Stevens should resign. Our governor is asking him to resign. It will be tempting for some voters to stand by the senator out of loyalty. He’s been there for us and he needs us now. Even so, we don’t owe him. No one forced him to spend most of his adult life in the Senate. It’s a privilege to be elected. Elected officials should be held to the highest ethical standards, just like cops or teachers. They should be honest in the strictest sense. Ted Stevens wasn’t honest. Prosecutors proved it. A jury agreed.
This vote is about the standards to which we hold elected officials. Forty years is a long time to be in power. Stevens’ offense is forgivable, but it’s questionable whether he can go on doing his job effectively and with credibility. There is a reason behind term limits: Power corrupts. To re-elect Stevens would be a sign that it’s OK with the voters here if politicians break the law. It would be irresponsible.
It’s time for Uncle Ted to retire. He’s been in Washington too long, and he proved that by announcing on television that he has not been convicted. If Stevens was not convicted, there would be nothing to appeal. His statement is the sort of Washington-style semantics that people abhorred in President Clinton, who told the country, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman … .” If a blow job isn’t sexual relations than what is? If a jury finding you guilty of a crime isn’t a conviction than what is?
There are four other choices on the ballot this Tuesday, a Democrat, an Independent, a Libertarian and a member of the Alaskan Independence Party. At this point, I think we should elect anyone but Ted.