Alaska Lawmakers Losing Clout
Tuesday, August 14, 2007; 9:29 PM
WASHINGTON -- When he was a keeper of the federal purse strings, Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska told another Republican senator who opposed the infamous "bridge to nowhere," "I don't threaten people. I promise people."
His home-state GOP colleague, Rep. Don Young, was not to be outdone. Last month he told a fellow House member who opposed education money for native Alaskans: "There is always another day when those who bite will be killed, too, and I am very good at that. Those that bite me will be bitten back."
Stevens and Young may not be promising, threatening or biting anymore, now that both are under federal investigation.
The investigations _ and a questionable land deal that entangled the third member of Alaska's congressional delegation _ also may have ended a modern-day gold rush that sent billions of federal dollars to the state.
Alaska's entire delegation is under an ethical cloud, something congressional historians say is unprecedented:
_ Stevens is contending with an extraordinary FBI and IRS raid on his Girdwood, Alaska, home and a probe into his dealings with businessmen who oversaw remodeling of the house.
_ Young is the subject of a federal investigation that includes his campaign finance practices, and he has been chided by the leaders of his own party for his threatening comments. He was left off a House-Senate conference on an annual water resources bill that he had handled as a committee chairman.
_ Sen. Lisa Murkowski announced that she and her husband will sell back an undeveloped piece of riverfront property after a complaint to the Senate's ethics committee alleged the purchase was a sweetheart deal.
Stevens, 83, is the longest-serving Republican in Senate history _ having taken office in 1968. Young, 74, has been in office since 1973. Both face election next year.
"They aren't as bulletproof as they once were," said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a group that tracks pet projects known as earmarks or pork-barrel spending. "The people are not going to be quite as afraid of taking on The Hulk or Don Young." "The Hulk" is a reference to Stevens, who occasionally sports a tie with the image of the Incredible Hulk cartoon character.
No other delegation has delivered like Alaska's, using a combination of intimidating tactics and powerful positions _ especially when Republicans were in the majority through last year. Stevens headed the Senate Appropriations Committee. Young led the House Transportation Committee, making him the traffic cop for all road and mass transit projects.
More than 2,000 projects worth $7.5 billion have gone to Alaska since 2000, says Taxpayers for Common Sense. Alaska received a little over $1 billion in the 2005 highway bill.