ALEX CHADWICK, host:
This is Day to Day. I'm Alex Chadwick.
ALEX COHEN, host:
And I'm Alex Cohen. Alaskans are still reeling today from news that their senior Senator, Republican Ted Stevens, has been indicted on felony charges. Federal prosecutors say, he failed to disclose gifts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars from the oil services company known as VECO.
CHADWICK: Senator Stevens in the biggest political figure in Alaska. He's got a lot of friends there and some enemies too. But Alaska Public Radio network's Annie Feidt finds most people just shocked and saddened by the news.
ANNIE FEIDT: It's hard to over-estimate the importance of Ted Stevens to Alaska. He helped usher the territory into statehood 50 years ago and since then he's made sure Alaska, so far removed from the rest of the country, is never forgotten in Washington.
Professor CARL SHEPRO (Political Science, University of Alaska): Oh, I don't think you could find anybody bigger. I'd - it'd be very hard to point to someone who's had more influence.
FEIDT: That's Carl Shepro, political science professor at the University of Alaska in Anchorage. He says, the federal indictment against Stevens is serious, but he's not sure it will have serious implications for his popularity in the state. At least not yet.
Prof. SHEPRO: I've always thought that, basically, the only thing that's going to keep him from capturing any votes is to be convicted of something. The indictment doesn't mean too much in a lot of people's minds.
FEIDT: Eighty-four year old Stevens is the longest serving Republican in the U.S. Senate. He's a hero to many rural residents for making sure federal funds reach far flung Alaska communities. Mark Springer lives in Bethel, a small town on Alaska's western tundra, where gas costs nearly six dollars a gallon and many residents are struggling to pay their bills. Springer says Stevens deserves better for all he's done for Alaska. His crime was a minor paperwork mistake.
Mr. MARK SPRINGER (Resident, Bethel): All he's been is indicted on checking an incorrectly box on a form. That's basically the scope of the indictment.
FEIDT: But not everyone in the state is ready to forgive Stevens for the alleged crime. Lou Web lives in the fishing town of Unalaska, an island community half way out the illusion chain. She says, it's important to investigate the charges that Steven's accepted valuable unreported gifts.
Ms. LOU WEB (Resident, Unalaska): If you're hiding that kind of money you need to be indicted for it. So, I mean, gifts - somebody's paid him off for something. We need to find out what and why?
FEIDT: And in Juneau, Alaska's capital, Teresa Ransom Stinfal (ph) says, the indictment casts a cloud over the entire state.
Ms. TERESA RANSOM STINFAL (Resident): Oh my gosh. It's embarrassing being from Alaska with your senator being impeached or indicted. It's embarrassing. I mean, what's the rest of the country going to think? All of us Alaskans, we're so greedy with our oil money, and then our lawmakers go and - are trying to get more for themselves? And I think it's shameful.
FEIDT: Stevens released a statement yesterday saying, he's innocent of the charges and will prove it. In the coming months he'll be juggling his defense with the toughest re-election battle he's faced in years. The day before the indictment came out, Stevens was already anticipating a difficult campaign trip next month in Alaska.
Senator TED STEVENS (Republican, Alaska): I've got to depend upon traveling the state and renewing acquaintances and make people understand what I have done and to tell them one single thing. I've been there for you. Every time you were in trouble. It looks like I might be in trouble this time and I want you to be for me. Now that's going to be the campaign.
FEIDT: If the initial reaction in Alaska is any indication. Senator Stevens will put up a strong fight to retain his seat. Many Alaskans across party lines said they planned on voting for him before the indictment and the new federal charges wouldn't change a thing. For NPR News, I'm Annie Feidt in Anchorage.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.