So ends a political era. The Alaskan senator Ted Stevens, the longest-serving Republican senator in history and a force on Capitol Hill for decades, yesterday finally conceded the re-election race to his Democratic rival, Mayor Mark Begich.
This brings us to the end of the “Uncle Ted” era in Alaska, when billions of Stevens’s “pork-barrel” money would flow North from the lower 48. For those who worry about the corrupting influence of oil and money on politics, Stevens’ end could not come a moment too soon.
Stevens was one of the biggest defenders of the oil industry on Capitol Hill. As Newsweek pointed out last year: “Stevens was always close to the oil industry, perhaps too close”.
Moreover his career was marked by whiffs of corruption. For example, in 2003, the Los Angeles Times reported how in the late nineties Stevens “he got serious about making money. And in almost no time, he too was a millionaire — thanks to investments with businessmen who received government contracts or other benefits with his help.”
The paper continued: “Added together, Stevens’ new partnerships and investments provide a step-by-step guide to building a personal fortune — if you happen to be one of the country’s most influential senators. They also illustrate how lax ethics rules allow members of Congress and their families to profit from personal business dealings with special interests.”
Just days before the 2008 election Stevens was convicted in a federal court for lying on Senate disclosure forms to conceal more than $250,000 in gifts and home renovations from VECO, the oil field services company. Bill Allen, the former CEO of VECO, who was convicted of bribery co-owned a racehorse with Stevens.
VECO generously supported Steven’s political campaigns and expected favours in return. On one exchange recorded by the FBI, Allen can be heard telling a state lawmaker, “I own your ass.”
Veco was one of the main cleanup companies employed by Exxon after the Exxon Valdez has poured 11 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound. The disaster was a culmination of years of broken promises by the oil industry and its supporters like Stevens. It was Stevens who had once promised as he had supported the building of the Trans Alasksan pipeline; “All the technology of the space program will be put into the doggone tankers and there will not be one drop of oil in Prince William Sound.”
He repeadedly acted on behalf of his oil industry friends. In 2005, he prevented oil executives from being placed under oath when they spoke before a Senate committee hearing of which he was the Chairman.
That same year, Stevens attached pro-ANWR drilling language to the annual defense appropriations bill. In debate before the cloture vote, Stevens told fellow senators, “We know this Arctic. You don’t know the Arctic at all.” At issue, he said, was “2,000 acres of the Arctic,” the amount of land in the refuge that would be opened for drilling. “Is that worth this fight?”
In response to this, the Minority Leader Harry M. Reid, a Democrat from Nevada said: “Our military is being held hostage by this issue, Arctic drilling.” He called Steven’s provision “another gift to special interests,” adding that ; “It’s time we said no to an abuse of power.”
In contrast, Stevens voted against the Renewable Energy and Job Creation Act in June 2008, which would have extended the renewable energy tax credits.
So Stephens was trying to become the first convicted felon to win election to the Senate, but he failed. His demise also moves the Senate Democrats within two seats of a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority with the races in Minnesota and Georgia yet to be decided.
There will be few outside of Alaska and the oil industry who will be sorry to see him finally gone.