Ted Stevens, RIP 

Ted Stevens, the longest-serving Republican in the U.S. Senate when he was defeated for re-election in 2008, was a master at bringing home the bacon. His philosophy of governance was that as long as the feds wouldn’t let Alaska drill its oil, he would drill into their budget and bring every penny home possible.

From an August 2007 piece I wrote in National Review about his ethics problems (which eventually led to a federal conviction, later overturned):

Stevens’s 38 years in office have made him one of the Senate’s top dogs. But the respect he commands in Washington is nothing compared with the adulation he receives back home. In Alaska, he is revered as the state’s chief diplomat and statesman. When his plane lands in Anchorage, it does so at an airport named after him. In 2003, Gov. Frank Murkowski declared Stevens’s 80th birthday a state holiday — “Senator Ted Stevens Appreciation Day.”

“You have to understand that Alaska is what it is today because of Ted Stevens,” says one state official speaking from Anchorage. “He’s pumped so much money into the state — billions of dollars.”

…A former chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee, he is famous for wearing an Incredible Hulk tie during the appropriations season — his humorous way of reminding lawmakers to think twice before crossing him.

And it is indeed unwise to cross him. Stevens’s politics have always been moderate (his American Conservative Union lifetime rating is 64.5). But his passion for pork is extreme. Nothing triggers Stevens’s famous temper like an attack on Alaska’s stream of government funding. He erupted in rage when Sen. Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) tried to redirect funding toward hurricane-struck New Orleans after it was earmarked for two questionable bridge projects in Alaska.

It is a tribute to the seniority and skill of Stevens (and of Alaska’s long-serving Republican congressman Don Young) that the federal government spent $13,000 in Alaska for every man, woman, and child living there in 2004 — more than in any other state, according to the nonpartisan Tax Foundation. Alaskans receive $1.87 of federal-government spending for every dollar they pay in federal taxes.

Amazingly, Stevens came dangerously close to winning re-election in November 2008 despite his days-earlier conviction for accepting and failing to report a gift of $250,000 in home renovations. The gift came from crooked executives at a now-defunct Alaskan oil services company that is still leaving a trail of legal and criminal wreckage among the state’s public officials. Stevens’ conviction was later overturned because of prosecutorial misconduct.

Requiescat in pace.

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