Alaskans Split Over Sen. Stevens' Jam

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Constituents of longtime Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens often refer to him as "Uncle Ted." But when federal agents swooped in and searched his home outside Anchorage — possibly looking for evidence that could tie Stevens to a corrupt oil company executive — some took pleasure in his pain.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

The Senate approved a new ethics bill yesterday. It would require lawmakers to disclose more about their relationships with lobbyists. And it comes at a time when the longest-serving Republican in the Senate is caught in a federal corruption investigation. He is Alaska's Ted Stevens. And he's been around so long and has brought so much federal money to his state that many of his constituents refer to him as Uncle Ted. Many of them are shaken this week when federal agents searched the senator's home outside Anchorage. It's believed those agents were looking for evidence that could tie Stevens to a corrupt oil company executive.

As NPR's Martin Kaste reports, at least some Alaskans are taking pleasure in the senator's pain.

MARTIN KASTE: For years now, Rey Metcalf(ph) has been trying to take Ted Stevens down.

Mr. REY METCALF: Good morning.

Unidentified Man #1: Good morning.

KASTE: He's been collecting dirt on the senator, trying to convince Alaskans that Stevens is corrupt. And the news this week has put him in a good mood. He smiles at the sight of a banner headline that reads: Stevens scrutiny mounts.

Are you enjoying this?

Mr. METCALF: Oh...

(Soundbite of laughter)

KASTE: Metcalf drives through Anchorage, conducting what he calls his three-hour tour of the buildings that Senator Stevens has brought to town with federal money. The problem with the projects, Metcalf says, is that too many of them have lined the pockets of Stevens' own friends and family. Metcalf says he just got tired of trying to compete with Stevens' associates.

Mr. METCALF: I've been trying to do business in this town as a real estate broker and developer for 30 years. And you know, every time I turn around, I'm cutoff at the knees. And - so you know, if they wouldn't leave me alone, I finally just decided that going after them was going to be my hobby until they were gone.

KASTE: Alaskans started to pay a little more attention to Metcalf's allegations last year after federal agents raided the offices of several state legislators. The Feds later charged three of them with taking bribes from an oil services company called VECO - a company run by Bill Allen, who subsequently pleaded guilty to bribery. It then came out that Allen had overseen the remodeling job on Senator Stevens' home. And that news caught Alaskans' attention, not an easy thing to do this time of year.

(Soundbite of yelling)

KASTE: The short summer is when Alaskans put on their hip waiters and head down to places like Bird Creek to yank salmon out of the water. But even here, the anglers say they've been reading up on the raid on their senior senator's house. Fad Morgatroy(ph) doesn't like what he's heard about the man widely known as Uncle Ted.

Mr. FAD MORGATROY (Resident, Alaska): He's a legend. He's brought a lot of money. He's done a lot of good for the state, but you know, if he gets his hands caught in the cookie jar then he deserves to get slapped.

KASTE: Still, many Alaskans have good things to say about Stevens' work as their senator. Lawyer and writer Don Mitchell(ph) recalls how Stevens supported the land claims of Alaskan natives in the early '70s.

Mr. DON MITCHELL (Writer, Lawyer): He stood up and said he was with the natives and I don't think that people really appreciate it who are not aware of what it was like around here at that time, how politically courageous, in my view, that was.

KASTE: And as for the fact that Stevens' friends may have benefited from federal spending, Mitchell says that doesn't prove wrongdoing.

Mr. MITCHELL: If you accept that there are only four to 6,000 Alaskans in Alaska who matter in the political and economic sense, a large number of that relatively small number will be former Stevens' staffers or personal friends of the senator. So that goes with the turf of a very small state.

KASTE: Another man who knows Stevens is former Anchorage Mayor Jack Roderick. They've been friends since the days they shared a small law office in the early 1960s. They've been in touch since the scandal broke, and Roderick says Stevens has expressed some regret.

Mr. JACK RODERICK (Former Mayor, Anchorage): I think he wished he hadn't made some of the judgment calls he made with certain associates - Bill Allen, obviously.

KASTE: That's the former oil executive who's now cooperating with federal investigators.

Mr. RODERICK: You know, Allen was the outstanding businessman in Alaska, so what do you do? You know, you deal with him. But at some point you ought to have the good sense to say enough.

KASTE: Now Alaskans are asking themselves where Senator Stevens drew the line between helping his state and helping his friends.

Martin Kaste, NPR News, Anchorage.

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