Remembering Sen. Stevens And Rep. Rostenkowski
NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.
A smack-down winner in Connecticut. Last night's cliffhanger in Georgia resolves today. Still no verdict in the Blagojevich trial. It's Wednesday and time for another edition of the Political Junkie.
President RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.
Vice President WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad. Wheres the beef?
Senator BARRY GOLDWATER (Republican, Arizona): Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.
Senator LLOYD BENTSEN (Democrat, Texas): Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.
President RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.
Former Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): Lipstick.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: But Im the decider.
(Soundbite of scream)
CONAN: Ken Rudin is on vacation this week. So NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving steps into the Political Junkie's shoes. This week, Newt Gingrich wins one proxy war in Georgia as his choice for the GOP gubernatorial nod ekes out a win over Sarah Palin's pick.
In Colorado, Obama-backed Bennet beats the Clinton candidate Romanoff in the Democrat Senate primary. As expected, Linda McMahon and Dick Blumenthal will square off to replace Chris Dodd in Connecticut.
In a few minutes, we'll focus on the one politician most responsible for the 49th star in the United States flag, Ted Stevens of Alaska. We'll also remember former Illinois Congressman Dan Rostenkowski.
Later in the program, we want to hear from flight attendants. Is Steven Slater's story your story? Email us now. The address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
But first, guest junkie Ron Elving joins us here in Studio 3A. If you'd like to talk about the primary results in Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia and Minnesota, call us, 800-989-8255. Email us again, the address is email@example.com. Ron, always nice to have you on the program.
RON ELVING: Neal, it's a pleasure to be with you.
CONAN: And I guess the news of today is that there will be no recount in Georgia.
ELVING: That is correct. It has been determined that Nathan Deal has won the nomination of the Republican Party for governor of Georgia by about 2,500 votes, or 0.04 percent of the vote. And that's over a woman named Linda Handel, who had been supported rather famously by Sarah Palin.
CONAN: One of her mama grizzlies.
ELVING: That is correct, and the first one of the mama grizzlies who had been running for a Republican nomination for governor who has not succeeded in getting that nomination for governor.
As you mentioned, Nathan Deal had been backed by Newt Gingrich and quite a number of other prominent Republicans in the state of Georgia, more of an establishment figure there, and also, interestingly, by yet another presidential prospect for 2012, Mike Huckabee.
CONAN: And let's go next to Colorado, and there was an outsider winning in the Republican gubernatorial race there. Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck beat Lieutenant Governor Jane Norton, and - excuse me, this is for Republican Senate candidacy, and he called for, well, Republicans to be Republicans.
Mr. KEN BUCK (Republican Senatorial Candidate, Colorado): Republicans have been sending their elected officials back to Washington, D.C. to change Congress, and instead those Republicans have been changed by Congress. It is time Republicans started acting like Republicans.
(Soundbite of applause)
CONAN: And you might think off the top of your head, sounds like a Tea Party man.
ELVING: And you'd be right. Ken Buck is a favorite of the Tea Party, and he was Weld County prosecutor. As you say, he's somebody who was not necessarily well-known around the state before this primary, whereas Jane Norton, his primary opponent, was.
CONAN: And he got into a bit of a tiff with his primary opponent. You may remember this from candidate Buck.
Mr. BUCK: Why should you vote for me? Because I do not wear high heels.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. BUCK: She has questioned my manhood. I think it's fair to respond.
CONAN: And obviously that intended in a somewhat humorous fashion. He may have gotten into some trouble there.
ELVING: It was not taken in humorous fashion, certainly by Jane Norton. Jane Norton, whose campaign initially had been thought to be something of an easing into the nomination - she was former lieutenant governor, she had been John McCain's co-coordinator for the state in 2008, very well-known woman - and she did not take Ken Buck seriously enough at first.
But toward the end she was taking him very seriously, even when he was kidding. She had made references to why people should vote for her because she had done a great number of things and done them all in high heels, kind of the old Ginger Rogers dancing with Fred Astaire joke. And when she got opportunity, she made reference to that in respect to herself, nice joke.
He turned it around to say you should vote for me because I don't wear high heels, not so funny, didn't work so well. She campaigned on it and closed the gap in the final days, but not enough.
CONAN: On the Democratic side, the incumbent, the appointed senator, Michael Bennet, well, in the end seems to get a fairly easy victory over Mr. Romanoff.
ELVING: This is a case of an incumbent who, normally winning by 54-46 in an intra-party challenge in a primary of this kind would be thought not to look terribly strong - 54-46 is not an overwhelming win for an incumbent.
But as you say, he's an appointee, and Andrew Romanoff's campaign came on very strong at the end. He did have the support of Bill Clinton making robo-calls. He sold his own house to finance more television ads and did everything he could to overtake Michael Bennet.
Romanoff was the former speaker of the House there in Colorado but was term-limited out of his office and was rather position to get the appointment from Governor Bill Ritter when this seat was opened up by Ken Salazar's retirement from the Senate to be Interior secretary.
He expected to get that Senate seat, and he didn't get it, and he fought on and challenged Michael Bennet. And Michael Bennet is, well, he has not closed the sale with Colorado Democrats in general.
He's closely associated with a billionaire businessman there in Denver, Phil Anschutz, who originally brought him there as an employee to work with him, and a lot of Democrats don't like Phil Anschutz and don't trust Michael Bennet because he's been too close to him.
CONAN: Will he have, though, been tempered by the fact that he did have a tough primary race and now going into the general?
ELVING: He certainly knows that he needs to take off the tie and probably the corporate suit, and he has to get a little closer again to John Hickenlooper, the mayor who made him the superintendent of schools there a few years ago, and try to run as a bit of a ticket. John Hickenlooper is looking very strong for governor.
CONAN: We're talking with Ron Elving, NPR senior Washington editor, this week our guest Political Junkie, 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. And Dave is on the line, calling from Denver.
DAVE (Caller): Oh, hi. I had a quick question for you regarding Scott McInnis and the plagiarism charges and how you feel that may impact him this fall.
CONAN: Scott McInnis, the Republican nominee for governor in Colorado, and as you mentioned up against Democrat John Hickenlooper.
ELVING: Well, except that in the end Scott McInnis did not win that nomination. He had certainly long-time been the favorite, but starting with those plagiarism allegations, his campaign went into a bit of a tailspin, and in the end he wound up losing to a businessman named Dan Maes, who is another Tea Party favorite, certainly very similar to Ken Buck in that respect but quite different in some other respects.
Ken Maes is a guy you may have excuse me, Dan Maes is a guy you may have seen on MSNBC recently, defending his attack on the Mayor Hickenlooper bicycle program in Denver as something having to do with the United Nations.
CONAN: All right, Dave, thanks very much for the call. Let's see if we can go next to Chris(ph), and Chris with us from Minneapolis.
CHRIS (Caller): Hi, thanks. I was wondering if you guys could explain in a nutshell what the difference was of opinion between Bill Clinton and Barack Obama on the race in Colorado.
ELVING: Well, with respect to Michael Bennet and with respect to Andrew Romanoff, maybe not as much as may meet the eye. One coincidence is that Andrew Romanoff backed Hillary Clinton in the Colorado primary for president in 2008, and Michael Bennet backed Barack Obama.
That appears to have been at least of some importance to the Clintons. It was in 2008. And I think also that there were just some longer-standing loyalties going back into the Clinton years in their own campaigns with Mr. Romanoff. And the Clintons do tend to be fiercely loyal.
CONAN: There was not a great deal of difference on the issues between those two.
ELVING: It's not as great as the issues between many of the primary rivals we've seen in both parties this year, certainly on the Republican side as well. But their biggest difference there, I think, was just the sense that Michael Bennet had not been as much a part of the Democratic campaigns in the past in Colorado, that he was kind of a newcomer, that he come in to run the schools, that there had been some controversies about how he financed that, and his closeness to certain Republican figures raised questions among some Democrats.
CONAN: Chris, thanks very much for the call. No big surprises in the state of Connecticut. Linda McMahon, the former wrestling executive, will face off against the Democratic attorney general, Dick Blumenthal. Everybody expected that all along.
In Minnesota, though, well, one name coming back in the news.
ELVING: Mark Dayton. Now, this is a man who was heir to a rather large fortune. His family controlled the Dayton department stores, later became Target. They are no longer associated with Target. By the way, Mark Dayton doesn't work for Target.
And he was a senator here for six years, representing Minnesota from the year 2000 to 2006, did not settled into the Senate, did not enjoy it and voluntarily retired, but not entirely from politics.
He decided he still wanted to be in state-wide politics, came back out of retirement to run for governor this year, and in a three-way race, a very tough three-way race, he appears to have won a narrow victory, with about 45 percent of the three-way vote.
CONAN: And he will be facing Tom Emmer to replace Tim Pawlenty, who is believed to be running for president of the United States.
ELVING: Believed to be, although I think we should add that he hasn't actually made an official announcement to that effect. But that's why people think he didn't run for re-election himself.
CONAN: In the meantime, yesterday on the floor of the House of Representatives, Democratic leadership thought it was going to be time to celebrate passage of a bill to give jobs to teachers and cops. Instead, much of the attention focused on the former chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, the powerful chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, and that would be Charlie Rangel, who issued a long and confusing at times diatribe, well, against almost everybody, going wanted to clear up any confusion about his future. He's saying I'm going to be here.
Representative CHARLIE RANGEL (Democrat, New York): If I can't get my dignity back here, then fire your best shot in getting rid of me through expulsion.
CONAN: Now, Congressman Rangel faces ethics charges, through a long process declined to reach a deal with the Ethics Committee, and now is going to have to go on trial.
ELVING: That's right. The committee will hold a hearing, as they put it, beginning September 13th, with the first day of that hearing, which is being described as a trial and has some aspects of a trial. But it is a committee of Congress that's actually hearing this evidence.
And they're going to be considering 13 different counts against Charlie Rangel. This has to do with rent-free apartments in New York, it has to do with a property he owned in Dominican Republic, didn't report properly on his congressional reports of his assets, did not declare income from the villa when it was rented.
CONAN: Nothing criminal here.
ELVING: Well, let's put it this way: He is not under apparent criminal investigation, either in the state of New York or by the federal government. So if there are violations here that would rise to the point of being criminal, that would have to begin or it would have to at least be revealed as having begun at some later point.
Right now, some people think one of the reasons he hasn't been willing to admit to some degree of wrongdoing, take a reprimand and let all this be bygones be bygones, is because he doesn't want to admit to something substantial that would look like a crime and then have more of a criminal problem down the road.
We don't know that that's his thinking. We only know what he had to say yesterday in that 37 minute meandering kind of defense.
CONAN: And a lot of Democrats would like to see him go away to avoid the problems of an ethics trial in the run-up to the midterm elections, apparently including the Democrat in the White House. Barack Obama spoke of Charlie Rangel in the past tense, and this was Chairman Rangel's response.
Rep. RANGEL: If I was you, I may want me to go away too. I am not going away. I am here.
CONAN: Charlie Rangel, the former chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. Ron Elving is going to stay with us. You stay with us, too. When we come back, we're going to be focusing on one of the most powerful and influential members of the United States Senate over, well, living memory - Ted Stevens of Alaska, who died yesterday in a plane crash. We're also going to remember another former chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Dan Rostenkowski. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.
It's Wednesday. NPR's regular political junkie, Ken Rudin, is on vacation. Filling in, NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving. We've got a lot more to talk about, including the death of former Senator Ted Stevens and his impact on the state of Alaska.
We want to hear from Alaskans today. How did Ted Stevens shape your state? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com. And, of course, the plane crash, Ted Stevens' body found yesterday. There were some survivors from that crash.
Interesting, I was just up in Alaska visiting Fairbanks and member station KUAC, and everybody there still refers to Ted Stevens as Uncle Ted.
ELVING: Well, he is Senator Stevens - he was Senator Stevens for life in many respects. He had entered political life, public life in Alaska before Alaska was a state, back in the 1950s. He was a transplant, originally from Indiana, but he came there in the '40s and visited.
He graduated from UCLA, got a law degree from Harvard and then came back to Alaska pretty much as soon as he could, working for the Interior Department in the Eisenhower administration, loved it, wanted to make it his home.
And not only did he make it his home, but he really became in some respects the leading political figure of the entire history of the state of Alaska. He was, in a sense, the king of Alaska, especially when it came to anything having to do with the federal government. And in a place like Alaska, where there's much federally-owned land, well, that's an awful lot of the public life of the state.
CONAN: And I think the figure is Alaska gets back $7 in federal money for every dollar it sends to Washington, D.C.
ELVING: You know, I don't think that's a ratio we could expand over all 50 states and make it work, Neal, do you think?
CONAN: I don't think so. But anyway, Ted Stevens, responsible for a great deal of that, his career mired by the indictment by a federal grand jury on seven counts of failing to properly report gifts in 2007. The following year, he was convicted on seven felony counts.
He asked for the trial to be expedited before the election, and the verdict came down just a few days before election. He lost that election, and he was convicted of concealing more than a quarter of a million dollars in house renovations and gifts. Senator Stevens defended his legacy against that conviction to the Senate in 2008.
(Soundbite of archived audio)
Senator TED STEVENS (Republican, Alaska): My mission in life is not completed. I believe God will give me more opportunities to be of service to Alaska and to our nation. And I look forward with a glad heart and with confidence in his justice and mercy.
I told a member of the press yesterday, I don't have any rearview mirror. I look only forward, and I still see the day when I can remove the cloud that currently surrounds me.
CONAN: And indeed, that cloud was removed. On appeal, it was decided that the case was tainted by prosecutorial misbehavior. And when the new administration came in, Attorney General Eric Holder said we're going to decline to pursue this case.
ELVING: That's right. He essentially dismissed the charges, the attorney general of the United States did, saying that the prosecutorial misconduct, withholding some evidence that might have been helpful to Senator Stevens in the trial, was so bad, was so egregious that he thought the charges should just be dismissed, this of course after the senator had already lost, very narrowly, his re-election bid.
It cannot possibly be thought that had the verdict gone the other way, or if these charges had never been brought, that he would not have had probably another pretty easy re-election.
But in this particular case, because of the trial, because of all the bad publicity and then of course because of his conviction, he did lose his seat in November of 2008 and had been a private citizen since.
CONAN: We want to hear again from Alaskans today. How did Ted Stevens shape your state? 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. Joining us now from NPR's booth at The Capitol is Libby Casey, Alaska Public Radio's Network Washington correspondent, and nice to have you on the program today.
Ms. LIBBY CASEY (Washington correspondent, Alaska Public Radio Network): Thank you very much. Good to be here.
CONAN: And I wonder what's been the response to the news of Senator Stevens' death from his former colleagues here in Washington.
Ms. CASEY: You know, the Senate I think it's hard to quantify what this guy meant. And the Senate's had so many losses in the past year, the loss of Senator Ted Kennedy, Senator Robert Byrd and now Ted Stevens, who, even though he wasn't still in the Senate, as Ron mentioned, he's been gone from here about two years now, he was still around Washington.
He came and visited his colleagues here. He's best pals with Democratic Senator Dan Inouye of Hawaii and really a charming couple, those two, a duo, Republican and Democrat, call each other brothers. Their relationship dates back to an earlier era, where parties mattered less, and friendship mattered more.
The reaction has been very heartfelt, and people have lauded many tributes to him, but Senator Ted Stevens felt a little burned by the Senate when he left a couple years ago because he wanted more support from his colleagues as he faced those charges.
CONAN: He, as you mentioned, well, dating to a previous era, yes a Republican, yes very conservative but also willing to work with Democrats across the aisle and indeed, one of the Republicans who decided to vote against the impeachment of Bill Clinton.
Ms. CASEY: Absolutely, and he had other non-popular views among Republicans. He supported stem cell research. He was a huge proponent of public broadcasting, for example, also the arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and didn't always fall into party line on issues like abortion.
And so he did build some alliances across the aisle. Now, that's not to say he wasn't a fierce fighter. You guys know the image of Stevens with his Incredible Hulk tie. He liked to pick a fight, and he liked to win a fight.
CONAN: Used to gleefully describe himself as a mean old SOB.
Ms. CASEY: Absolutely he did, and as reporters, we often encountered his vitriol. You know, you'd ask him a question. He'd look at you cross-eyed, and even though he was only about five feet tall, you sort of took a step back and, you know, gulped, and maybe I can rephrase that, you know, a little bit. He was an intense guy.
CONAN: Libby, I do believe when you came here to Washington, D.C., you asked Senator Stevens a question he didn't care for.
Ms. CASEY: Oh, well, this has happened quite a few times. But yes, I have at times queried the senator. I moved down to Washington from Alaska right before he got indicted. And so one thing, though, that happened is the day before the senator got indicted, I sat down with him to talk about his re-election bid.
And none of us knew the indictment was coming down. He didn't know the indictment was coming down. And we actually had a really touching interview where he talked about his legacy and some of his goals and things that he still wanted to do even though he was 84 years old.
And instead of having the intense bulldog, the scary senator, he was a lot more reflective and talked about the importance of family and of Alaska. And he talked about how, you know, he was really this guy, this kid, a poor kid who grew up during the Great Depression, who fought his way through.
And to be someone who could speak on the floor of the Senate, that could represent the largest state in the union, at least geographically, was something that he felt very humbled by.
CONAN: Here's an email we have from Amanda(ph) in Buffalo, New York. He was amazing. He happened to be in a restaurant I worked in, and I had mentioned that I was new up there, and he wanted to know what I thought of the state. He also asked if there was anything I thought that needed to be changed. He really cared about what the people wanted and needed. It was Alaska first, Alaska always. Unfortunately, with the recent economic turndown, I had to move back to New York. As soon as I can swing it, I want to get back to Alaska. It's not my place of birth, but it's my home.
I think Ted Stevens would have said very much the same thing.
Here's a caller, Christine(ph) on the line from Vancouver.
CHRISTINE (Caller): Yeah, I was born in Alaska, and Ted Stevens, he was Mr. Alaska. My entire life, he was the politician that represented us, and he did a good job. The last scandal he was absolved from and it did not mark him, and even during that, he was just so forward-looking for such an old man.
CONAN: Was there one thing in particular that you will remember him for, Christine?
CHRISTINE: Oh, I just remember my dad, my dad was from Sweden, and he would talk about Ted Stevens as, you know, just being real straight and not he didn't care if it was popular, but he did what he said, you know, and he was just a kind of old-style politician. That was really approved of in my family.
CONAN: All right, Christine, thanks very much for the call, appreciate it.
CHRISTINE: Thank you, bye-bye.
CONAN: One thing that old-style politicians were noted for was bringing home the bacon or the pork. Here is Senator Stevens, well, you could tell he was not a member of the Tea Party.
(Soundbite of archived audio)
Sen. STEVENS: I'm guilty of asking the Senate for pork and proud of the Senate for giving it to me.
(Soundbite of laughter)
ELVING: Up to one point, where there was a little sign that said too far.
CONAN: Too far, and that was the bridge to nowhere.
ELVING: In 2005, when he was responsible for an extraordinarily expensive bridge, anywhere from about $200-and-some million to over $300 million to connect Ketchikan, Alaska, to an island, a lightly populated island just across a little strait.
That was considered at that moment a symbol of overspending by the Republican majorities in the House and Senate in those days and became very unpopular among many Republicans, and that program, well, while not exactly being totally rejected, the funding for that program was shelved.
CONAN: And of course became a rallying cry for, among others, Sarah Palin, his opponent in the Republican Party. Though there is a lot of projects in Alaska that Ted Stevens will be remembered for, Libby Casey, including the Alaska Pipeline.
Ms. CASEY: Absolutely, the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline, and there's so much infrastructure in Alaska. The Anchorage airport is named after him. But it's not just the infrastructure. It's also the laws that he helped bring into being.
The main law that governs fishing, fisheries in the United States, the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Act, was his creation. Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, his creation, dealing with so many lands issues. Title he was involved in Title IX, getting women's sports equality.
And so the legacy extends beyond Alaska and comes down to the lower 48. But the thing that people don't realize about Alaska with this whole earmark thing is that, you know, Alaska is a state that is so remote and so huge geographically. These villages are very isolated. You can't get to them except by a boat or a plane.
And so Stevens was trying to just get the basics in these villages, and he was inspired, for example, by, you know, the Appalachian Commission and created something called the Denali Commission in Alaska to help these extremely poor areas.
There are these villages that have what we call honey buckets. They don't have indoor plumbing. They have to use buckets and outhouses to deal with their waste. And Stevens thought, you know, this needs to be fixed, and I can bring home the money. And he was, as you guys mentioned, completely proud of the fact that he could bring home the bacon.
CONAN: And, Ron Elving, he is - well, very different people, but reminiscent in many ways of Bobby Byrd.
ELVING: I think of the two of them in some sense, some sentimental sense, as meeting in the final Appropriations Committee, conference committee meeting. The Democrat, the Republican, two people who, for all their partisan differences, agreed far more often than they disagreed about the idea that money needed to be brought back to your home state. Certainly, Bob Byrd, for a long time, seemed to be trying to move the federal government lock, stock and barrel out to West Virginia and succeeded to some measure.
CONAN: Now, let's go next to Robert(ph). Robert is on the line with us from Anchorage.
ROBERT (Caller): Yeah, I wanted to comment on the senator's guilt or innocence in the matter that brought him down. He was given a $250,000 house upgrade by Bob Allen, a businessman who's been convicted of bribing a number of state senators and is currently in jail. Bob Allen was Senator Stevens' great and good friend, and they had hung out together for many years and socialized, and they were best buddies.
Now, the issue on which Stevens was convicted and subsequently acquitted was not reviewing the fact that he had taken this $250,000 upgrade of his house. He didn't reveal it either because he thought he was entitled to it or because he knew that it would embarrass him politically to reveal it and...
CONAN: Does that - Robert, I just want to ask, does that, in your mind, taint 40 years of service?
ROBERT: Well, of course, it does. I mean, if - I teach at the university and I'm a beneficiary of Ted Stevens' largesse, not out of his own pocket but out of the federal fund, but that doesn't entitle him to live large on other people's money and presumably throw favors toward his good pal Bob Allen, who's now in prison. It was inappropriate.
And the point I want to make is not that Ted Stevens isn't Uncle Ted and that he didn't do a lot of good for Alaska, of course he did. The question is endemic in our political system, that is these politicians who have great power and not a lot of money. And what happens? They move with the great. They hobnob with millionaires, and they don't have two cents to rub together. So what do they do? They reach into the pocket of their rich friends, and their rich friends in turn influence them in the forming of legislation, and...
ROBERT: ...this is an abuse.
CONAN: Robert, thank you very much for the call. Appreciate it. Just wanted to finish up with a couple of other emails. This from Paul(ph). Even though I helped Ben(ph) - Senator Begich beat Uncle Ted, I always respected Senator Stevens and thankful for his 40 years serving my state.
This from Javier(ph) in Nome. Uncle Ted was the best of Alaska, gritty like Clint Eastwood. He made our state relevant. I voted for him when I was able to vote in 2008. I'm 22. I feel his trial was a blue party conspiracy. I guess that in contrast to the previous caller.
Libby Casey, thank you very much for your time today.
Ms. CASEY: If I could just mention one thing, you know, the last time I talked to Senator Stevens was about Senator Byrd. And to hear him reflect on that relationship and that former era of the Senate was pretty powerful. And I don't think Alaskans are going to forget all that Stevens did despite the taint of that trial because he was never acquitted. The charges were taken away because of prosecutorial misconduct, but Ted Stevens wasn't acquitted, which is an important distinction. And Alaskans though, as they reflect on his legacy, are, you know, as you do when someone dies, remembering the good times and all that he did.
CONAN: Libby Casey, the Washington correspondent of the Alaska Public Radio Network, with us from our booth up on Capitol Hill. Thanks very much for your time.
Ms. CASEY: Thank you.
CONAN: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And senior Washington editor Ron Elving is still with us here in Studio 3A, filling in this week for Ken Rudin. And, Ken, it's interesting. We just heard a caller talking about powerful members of Congress who don't have two dimes to rub together and end up being caught up in corruption scandals.
We learned today about the death of Dan Rostenkowski, former congressman from Illinois, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee for 14 years, played a key role in the 1983 Social Security overhaul, later indicted on 17 felony counts and a stamp embezzling scandal in Congress, causing him to give up the committee chairmanship in 1994. Later that year, he lost his reelection.
ELVING: You know, it's almost pathetic, in a sense, the size of the things he was accused of making off with - stamps, chairs, pieces of furniture, some other things. Some of the charges were somewhat more serious than that, but these were the two on which he agreed to plea guilty and for which he went to jail. This from the pinnacle of being the Ways and Means Committee chairman, as Charlie Rangel is today, and being responsible largely for the 1982-'83 rescue of Social Security and being responsible quite largely for the passage of the Tax Reform Act out of the United States House of Representatives 1985-1986. A big part of the Reagan legacy, really, were the tax cuts of the early '80s, which he had a big hand in and then the tax cuts of the later '80s, middle '80s that Rostenkowski also had a hand in.
He was a major figure in congressional history, and he would frequently complain that his salary, which was very good money by the average American standards, was such a pittance next to all the people who were coming to him to beg for legislation on a daily basis.
CONAN: And even as he left Congress, he was unrepentant about the crimes that he was convicted of committing.
(Soundbite of archived audio)
Mr. DAN ROSTENKOWSKI (Former Democratic Congressman, Illinois): At no time did I ever misappropriate any money or property from the congressional post office. And I never did anything to obstruct justice or intimidate any witnesses charged in the indictment.
CONAN: Dan Rostenkowski later served time in federal prison and later said: I know my obituary will always say: Dan Rostenkowski: Felon. Do you think he's right?
ELVING: Well, of course, he did actually get a presidential pardon in 2000 before he left office. Bill Clinton pardoned him. But, yes, of course, in the same sense that there's a taint on Ted Stevens because of that last final trial, there was also always, and always will be, a taint on Dan Rostenkowski's record because of that conviction.
CONAN: And interestingly, we have to note that Dan Rostenkowski's seat, lost in 1994 to a Republican, but then he was succeeded in that seat by a Democrat who later became governor of the state of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich.
ELVING: And we are waiting, even this afternoon, the results of his trial on corruption charges back in Illinois, and we'll wait to see what may happen to him and his brother. The jury is apparently coming back to talk to the judge this afternoon.
CONAN: And eventually, Dan Rostenskowski seceded as Ways and Means Committee chairman by Charlie Rangel. It all goes around and round.
Ron Elving, thank you very much for being with us today.
ELVING: My pleasure, Neal.
CONAN: Coming up, we're going to be talking about, well, if you're a flight attendant, you know the story. Is it your story? Send us email: email@example.com. Give us a call: 800-989-8255. This is NPR News.
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