Alaska editorial: Stevens still has what it takes to be a leader

Posted: Friday, August 04, 2006

This editorial appeared in the Voice of the Times:

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Take those claims that Sen. Ted Stevens' power is somehow diminished in Washington with a grain of salt - make that two grains.

Stevens is no longer chairman of the Appropriations Committee - Senate rules limit those terms - but he is still one of the longest serving members of the Senate and one of the most powerful people in the nation's capital.

At least one Washington-based reporter for an Alaska newspaper likes to crow whenever Stevens is thwarted - however briefly and for whatever reason - and can always find liberals and environmentalists to claim that his fellow senators aren't afraid of Alaska's senior senator anymore.

Whether they are now or ever were afraid of Stevens - even when the Alaskan is wearing his Hulk tie and looking formidable - is an interesting question. That's not the way the U.S. Senate works. Stevens wears the tie for its humorous effect and does it to signal that he is prepared to get tough on some issue of importance to his home state.

Assuming his "Hulk" persona doesn't guarantee he will win on every issue; it never has. But because of his stature in the Senate, his many powerful allies and skill at making the system work, it's the Alaskan's way of throwing down the gauntlet for his foes and signaling his friends that he will be looking for their help.

The latest instance of distorting Stevens' relative power in the Senate came when he tried to get Alaska included in a bill providing revenue sharing from oil and gas drilling in federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The states of Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Alabama will get 37.5 percent of federal revenues from offshore development, at least initially to help them recover from damage wrought by last year's Hurricane Katrina.

Though Stevens' Senate allies expressed some sentiment for a similar deal for Alaska, they balked at including such a provision in the bill then under discussion. Their primary concern was that Alaska has a vast outer continental shelf, two-thirds of the nation's exploitable offshore acreage. We don't share that concern, but understand it.

So the Alaskan lost that skirmish. That's the way congressional battles go. But he hasn't given up; he never does. He also hasn't yet won the war on drilling the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a struggle that has gone on for decades and will continue. He has not given up there either.

Stevens' opponents may wish his power was waning. Fortunately for Alaska, it is not.

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