Stevens Leaves Behind 'King Of Alaska' Legacy

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Former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens never apologized for steering money to his state. Stevens once said, "I'm guilty of asking the Senate for pork, and proud of the Senate for giving it to me." Michael Carey covered Stevens as the former editorial page editor for the Anchorage Daily News, he talks to Steve Inskeep about the former senator's legacy.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Martin just mentioned the federal projects that Ted Stevens brought to Alaska. The senator never apologized for steering money to his state.

Mr. Ted Stevens (Former Republican Senator, Alaska): Im guilty of asking the Senate for pork and proud of the Senate for giving it to me.

INSKEEP: Michael Carey covered Senator Stevens as the former editorial page editor for the Anchorage Daily News. He's on the line.

Welcome to the program, sir.

Mr. MICHAEL CAREY (Former Editorial Page Editor, Anchorage Daily News): Good morning.

INSKEEP: If you drive around Alaska, how many signs of Ted Stevens' work do you see?

Mr. CAREY: Well, I like to say that Ted Stevens' fingerprints are like the Alaska snow, they're everywhere. You can't go any place in Alaska without running into the affect that Ted Stevens has had on lands policy, on development policy, resource policy, off-shore fishing policy, health care policy, and even women's sports.

His fingerprints are everywhere, and he's been involved in Alaska life for most of 60 years.

INSKEEP: Well, you remind of us, that although Stevens was proud of bringing schools or public buildings or highways to Alaska, that his influence went way beyond that. He was involved in energy policy, for example.

Mr. CAREY: Thats correct, and also developing fishing policy for halibut and salmon, and the same Stevens-Magnuson Act with deep sea fishing.

INSKEEP: So, is it a different state than it would've been without Ted Stevens?

Mr. CAREY: Yeah, it's really kind of hard to imagine what it would've been like without him, without somebody who served so long in the Senate and developed so much influence, and brought us so much money and was so direct about it. I can tell you a story about that, if you'd like.

INSKEEP: Sure.

Mr. CAREY: I was doing a story some years ago. It was about Ted's days as the district attorney in Fairbanks, and I went to breakfast with him to talk about it. This was his idea, to go to breakfast, not mine. I was going to interview him. I preferred the office, 'cause I knew what was going to happen. We never did the interview. We went to breakfast and people lined up - supplicants who wanted to talk to Ted, 'cause first they wanted to pay their respects, and second they wanted to ask him for little help.

They had a project that was going to be great for Alaska, all it needed was one thing: federal money.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAREY: And Stevens would either take notes or have this...he always traveled with a nice young man or a nice young woman who would take the notes and get back to those people. But, you know, this did frustrate him, after a while, because he would occasionally get mad, especially when he was asked to do things in the regulatory arena. And he would blow his top and say, listen, Bob, you got to understand - I'm a senator, not a magician.

INSKEEP: Well, I'm glad you mentioned Stevens blowing his top because he was famous for that. He even talked about it with us in 2007. We spoke with him about it. The subject came up when we mentioned his long-time collaborator, the late Senator Robert Byrd. Let's listen.

Mr. STEVENS (Republican, Alaska): Senator Byrd's a good friend, but he's gotten a little testy with me as he gets a little older. I don't blame him.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: Forgive me for laughing. Why don't you blame him for getting more testing?

Mr. STEVENS: Well, I think as you get a little older you get a little more impatient about things, and he gets impatient about things.

INSKEEP: And do you get impatient about things?

Sen. STEVENS: Well, I do, but the trouble is, is that, when I do it it's viewed in a different way. It's the hold Hulk is getting mad again.

INSKEEP: The old Hulk because he was called sometimes the Incredible Hulk, even though he's a little guy.

Mr. CAREY: Yeah, he was the Incredible Hulk guy and the senators knew they were going to get the business that particular day.

INSKEEP: You know, Ted Stevens ended his political career with a conviction on corruption charges. We should mention the charges were later dismissed because of misconduct by the prosecutor. But, how did all of that affect his image at home?

Mr. CAREY: I think people were very disappointed, especially as they learned more about his relationship with the corrupt businessman Bill Allen. And they didn't think Ted was crooked exactly, certainly not in the way the federal prosecutors did. But they thought that he'd gotten, you know, he'd been a senator for so long, things just came so easy to him, he just expected the kind of treatment he received from very wealthy people.

INSKEEP: So, people didn't give him a pass?

Mr. CAREY: No, they didn't. And, I mean, he did lose the election. And it was a very close election and some people were surprised. Mark Begich ran a great campaign, but he did lose the election.

INSKEEP: Well, Mr. Carey, thanks very much.

Mr. CAREY: Any time.

INSKEEP: Michael Carey is the former editorial page editor for the Anchorage Daily News. He's been talking about the death of former Senator Ted Stevens. And let's leave you with just a few more words from Senator Stevens this morning.

Mr. STEVENS: My motto has been, here, to hell with politics - just do what's right for Alaska.

INSKEEP: Senator Ted Stevens was 86 years old.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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