Ted Stevens, 86; longtime GOP senator showered funds on Alaska

Former senator Ted Stevens, one of the most powerful congressmen of his generation, was killed Aug. 9 in an airplane crash in a remote part of southwest Alaska.
By Emma Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Former senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, 86, who funneled billions of dollars to his home state over six terms in office and became one of the most powerful and combative federal legislators of his generation, died of injuries suffered in a plane crash Monday in southwest Alaska.

Mr. Stevens served 40 years in the Senate, longer than any other Republican in history. Starting out as a little-known envoy from a remote state, he used a combination of blunt aggression and deft political maneuvering to become a power broker who guaranteed a steady stream of federal dollars to Alaska.

He narrowly lost a bid for reelection in 2008, days after he was convicted of seven felonies for allegedly failing to disclose personal gifts. The conviction was thrown out months after the trial because of allegations of prosecutorial misconduct.

As chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee, Mr. Stevens ensured that Alaska got the billions of dollars it needed to build modern transportation, education and sanitation systems despite the state's vast and remote terrain. "Stevens money," as federal dollars came to be known in Alaska, transformed the state, from its largest cities to its farthest-flung hamlets, and made its residents among the country's biggest per-capita beneficiaries of federal largess.

He was a favorite target of government-spending watchdog groups, and the notorious "bridge to nowhere" he championed in 2005 became a national symbol of out-of-control pork politics.

Mr. Stevens, a self-described "mean, miserable SOB," was unapologetic about defending the interests of the nation's northern frontier. For difficult fights on the Senate floor, he famously wore a scowl and a necktie featuring the raging comic-book character the Incredible Hulk.

"They sent me here," he once said simply, "to stand up for the state of Alaska."

Mr. Stevens molded Alaska through more than just money. By reaching across the aisle to form alliances with his Democratic counterparts, he established himself early in his career as a senator who could pass major legislation.

He played a leading role in drafting the landmark 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, which addressed indigenous land claims by creating native corporations instead of reservations. In exchange for $15 billion and title to 44 million acres of ancestral homeland, native corporations gave up their claims on the rest of the state.

That agreement paved the way for a 1973 bill authorizing the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, another Stevens victory. The 800-mile pipeline traverses Alaska, shuttling oil from drilling sites in the north to cargo ships in Prince William Sound. It's an essential component of the state's oil industry, which now makes up nearly a third of Alaska's economy. Oil royalties and taxes account for 90 percent of the state government's general fund.

"The job of Alaska's congressional delegation has always been to pursue any project that has any promise of economic development," said Stephen Haycox, a historian of Alaska and the American West. "Ted Stevens understood that right from the very beginning."

He added that Mr. Stevens is probably "the most important Alaskan in shaping modern Alaska."

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