Alaska's senior Senator Ted Stevens bid farewell to the Senate today in a speech that received a standing ovation from everyone in the chamber.
Stevens has served in the Senate for nearly 40 years, about 80% of the time Alaska has been a state. In his remarks today, he said his motto throughout his Senate tenure was "To hell with politics. Just do what's right for Alaska." Indeed, he earned both praise and condemnation during his Senate career for his remarkable ability to channel federal dollars to his home state for roads, bridges, airports, schools, and other public works projects. (Public broadcasting, not always a favorite of GOP Senators, particularly benefited from Stevens' pull in the Appropriations Committee. The 25 stations of the Alaska Public Radio Network provide news and community services to many areas in that state where there are no broadcast TV signals, so Stevens was a stalwart supporter of public media funding.)
Stevens was also known for his feisty and sometimes volatile temperament. He wore ties featuring the Incredible Hulk or Tasmanian Devil to warn staffers and reporters if he was feeling especially short-fused. In recent years Stevens was best-known among the YouTube generation for a floor speech about Net Neutrality in which he compared the Internet to "a series of tubes".
Yesterday the Senator conceded his re-election race to Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich after a protracted vote-counting effort. Before this year, Stevens had never faced serious competition in a re-election bid. But after the FBI raided his vacation house in the summer of 2007, eventually gathering enough evidence for indictment and conviction on seven felony counts about undisclosed gifts, the Democrats saw an opening. Begich ultimately prevailed by a margin of about 1% of the vote. He will be Alaska's first Democratic Senator in nearly 30 years.
Stevens might well have faced expulsion from the Senate on ethical grounds if he had been re-elected — South Carolina Republican Jim DeMint had a proposal lined up to oust him from the Senate's Republican caucus. But because Stevens lost the race his colleagues on both sides of the aisle set aside the felony conviction and bid him a fond adieu. Majority Leader Harry Reid took the floor immediately after Stevens, telling the chamber that "for Ted Stevens, public service has been more than a career, it's been his life's calling."
You can hear Stevens' farewell remarks here: