Stevens Marks End of Senate Career

Posted November 20, 2008 at 6:36pm

Sen. Ted Stevens (Alaska), the longest-serving Republican in Senate history, said farewell to his colleagues on Thursday, marking the end of a storied career that ended in disgrace.

Stevens, who had been dogged in recent weeks by colleagues’ demands for his ouster in the wake of his conviction on seven felony counts, struck a conciliatory note in his farewell address.

“I bare no ill will toward anyone” in the Senate, Stevens said.

For Stevens, it was an ignominious end to his four-decade career that ended with his conviction and his subsequent defeat for re-election.

Stevens did not address his convictions for misrepresenting Senate filings; he has appealed. Stevens 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 (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 ethics scandals that contributed to his 2006 defeat — 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 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.

His speech brought an end to a remarkable Senate career in which Stevens almost single-handedly pulled a ragged frontier territory into the modern age, thanks to billions of dollars in 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. While his demeanor was often gruff, lawmakers have long lauded his ability as a deal-maker.

But for much of the last decade, Stevens found himself the subject of criticism for alleged ethics lapses. 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, which has attracted attention from government watchdogs, the media and, ultimately, federal investigators.

His son Ben got swept up in the same federal corruption probe in Alaska that in part led to his father’s demise.

At the end of his career, Stevens was under 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.