Stevens Concludes Senate Career

Posted November 20, 2008 at 11:49am

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) came to the well of the Senate for the final time on Thursday to say goodbye to his colleagues and bring closure to a once-illustrious career that is ending in electoral defeat and under a cloud of corruption. Although Stevens, who has served the Senate for four decades and is the chamber’s longest-serving Republican, did not directly address his seven federal felony convictions or the various ethics scandals that have dogged him in recent years, he made passing reference to his faith in God’s justice and his hope to ultimately be vindicated. “I believe God will give me more opportunities to be of service to Alaska and to our nation, and I look forward with a glad heart and with confidence in his justice and mercy. I look only forward and I still see the day when I can remove the cloud that currently surrounds me,” Stevens said. Much of the GOP’s old guard came to the floor for the speech, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Minority Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.), as well as “Old Bulls” such as retiring Sens. John Warner (Va.) and Pete Domenici (R-N.M.). Notably absent was Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the 2008 presidential hopeful, as well as most of the party’s young conservatives including Sens. Tom Coburn (Okla.) and John Thune (S.D.). Sen. Jim DeMint (S.C.), who earlier this week led an effort to push Stevens out of the GOP Conference, also did not attend. DeMint later abandoned his expulsion campaign under pressure from his colleagues. Former Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) — who himself was dogged by ethical scandals that contributed to his election defeat in 2006 — joined former Stevens staff, Stevens’ wife, Catherine, and other family members in the visitors gallery. On the Democratic side, only a handful of lawmakers came to witness Stevens’ final address. Stevens’ close friend, Sen. Daniel Inouye (Hawaii), was joined by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and Sens. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.), Robert Byrd (W.Va), Patty Murray (Wash.), Mark Pryor (Ark.) and Daniel Akaka (Hawaii). Byrd, 91, the longest-serving Senator, wept after Stevens spoke. Following his remarks, Stevens, 85, shook hands with Reid, Byrd and McConnell and hugged Inouye, whom Stevens has long referred to as his brother. Wednesday’s speech brings an end to a remarkable 40-year career in the Senate in which Stevens almost single-handedly pulled a ragged, extremely poor frontier territory into the modern age, thanks to billions of dollars in federal subsidies and earmarks. For most of his tenure in the Senate, Stevens — affectionately known back home as “Uncle Ted” — enjoyed broad support from constituents and colleagues alike. While his demeanor was often gruff, lawmakers have long lauded his ability to negotiate legislation. But for much of the last decade, Stevens found himself the subject of much criticism over alleged ethical lapses. The fact that numerous members of his family — including his wife, brother-in-law and at least one son — are high-profile lobbyists who have benefited from their connections to Stevens first drew the attention of government watchdogs, the media and, ultimately, federal investigators. His son Ben became swept up in the same federal corruption probe in Alaska that in part led to Stevens’ political demise. At the end of his career, Stevens was under near-constant attack from his own party’s right wing, with his famous “Bridge to Nowhere” earmark becoming a rallying cry for Coburn, DeMint and other Senate conservatives who openly and repeatedly challenged the powerful Stevens.