Stevens Bids Farewell to Senate

Sen. Ted Stevens, (R-Alaska), makes his farewell address to the Senate.
By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 20, 2008; 1:14 PM

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) bade an emotional farewell to the Senate today, telling colleagues a day after conceding defeat in his reelection bid that he will return to his home state and try to restore his reputation following his conviction last month on federal corruption charges.

Stevens, 85, the longest-serving Republican in the history of the Senate, described his part in what he called the "transformation" of Alaska into an economic success story from an "impoverished territory" when he first took office.

Delivering what he said was his last floor speech, Stevens recalled that when he came to the Senate in 1968, "many people doubted whether Alaska had what it took to be a successful state" and wondered if it was still "Seward's folly." He referred to the moniker once attached to the purchase of the territory from Russia in 1867 at the behest of Secretary of State William H. Seward.

In his 40 years in the Senate, Stevens became known as an ardent champion of his home state, obtaining billions of dollars in federal funding for projects there. But he ran afoul of federal financial disclosure laws and was convicted last month on seven felony counts for failing to properly report gifts worth $250,000, including extensive remodeling of his Alaska home by an oil-field services company.

A little more than a week after the conviction, Stevens sought reelection to a seventh full Senate term. The Nov. 4 balloting showed him deadlocked with Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D), and it took two more weeks to decide a winner following a count of thousands of absentee and challenged ballots. Begich emerged the winner this week with a lead of about 3,700 votes, and Stevens formally conceded the race yesterday.

Even if he had won, his political future would have been at risk, with a number of senators prepared to vote to expel him because of his felony convictions.

Asking to be excused "if I puddle up" while trying to express his feelings upon leaving the Senate, Stevens said he treasures every moment he has spent representing Alaska.

"Alaska was not Seward's folly and is no longer an impoverished territory," he declared in a strong voice.

"My motto here has been, 'To hell with politics; just do what's right for Alaska,' " Stevens said, adding, "I bear no ill will toward any member of this body." He said he prays for Begich's success in representing "the last frontier."

"I don't have any rear-view mirror," he said. "I look only forward, and I still see the day when I can remove the cloud that currently surrounds me." He ended his speech by saying, "I yield the floor for the last time." Senators then gave him a prolonged standing ovation.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) extolled Stevens's decades of service, dating from his deployment with the Army Air Forces in the China-Burma-India theater during World War II.

"His career has been about more than longevity," Reid said. "He has been an advocate for his state, and that's an understatement."

Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.), the Senate minority leader, told the chamber, "It's safe to say . . . that no senator in the history of the United States has ever done more for his state than Senator Ted Stevens. Alaska would not be what it is today if not for him."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company