Alaska editorial: A time to fight

Posted: Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Sen. Ted Stevens is an innocent man. He has been indicted by an East Coast grand jury on seven charges of failing to disclose. He has not been convicted, nor does he intend to be. He has categorically denied any wrongdoing. He, like any other, deserves his day in court.

Stevens has given more than 50 years of public service to the state of Alaska and this nation, serving in World War II as a fighter pilot and in the state House and U.S. Senate since the 1960s. An attorney, he is a leader in crafting ethics law and setting high ethical standards. Alaskans respect him.

Just because he is in a difficult situation, Alaskans won't abandon him. Perhaps the Justice Department realized that and chose a Washington, D.C., jury to appeal to for an indictment. But Alaskans are true to our friends, and Stevens is a friend to Alaskans.

Of course, questions will have to be answered, and there is an appropriate way to go about that. The indictment charges that Stevens didn't disclose on financial forms required of elected officials that a corporation had provided goods and services in a remodeling of the senator's modest Alaska home in Girdwood.

Stevens has stated since the Justice Department investigation began into the remodeling that he paid all bills presented to him. Perhaps all of the bills weren't made available to Sen. Stevens, and if they weren't, then he wouldn't be able to disclose them. Or whoever filled out the forms for him wouldn't.

It also is wise to note that the head of the corporation, Bill Allen of VECO, who provided the service has admitted to illegal activities and has negotiated a deal with the Justice Department. That deal has been made in an effort at self-preservation.

Sen. Stevens is a powerful man. He is a powerful man involved in politics. Politics can get ugly. It certainly isn't pretty in Alaska, where the senior U.S. senator, lone congressman Don Young and Gov. Sarah Palin, all devoted Alaskans, have been under investigation. Neither Young nor Palin has been charged, and the feds aren't investigating Palin. All are innocent at this juncture.

So it is premature to indict one or all in editorials, particularly in publications in New York City. Perhaps New York should look into the behavior of its own.

The National Review online called immediately for Sen. Stevens' resignation.

That's not only premature, but unlikely. What's the old saying, "When the going gets tough, the tough get going." Amen, Sen. Stevens.

To begin with, independent Alaskans will decide for themselves. Alaska is not New York. Nor does it want to be.

The National Review has dismissed the legal right of presumption of innocence. The law states that Americans arrested, charged, indicted, whatever, are innocent unless proven guilty. Americans need to respect that in every legal case.

The National Review also concludes guilt based on the reputation of the company hired to do Stevens' remodel. It fails to point out that reputation only became widely known since the Justice Department's investigation began. Most Alaskans had no idea of it, which makes one wonder how Alaskans living on the East Coast might be expected to know.

The New York-based publication chooses loaded language in an attempt to smear Stevens, using "pork-barrel spender" and "earmarks" to describe the senator and the federal funds he acquired for his home state. Alaska had been a state only 10 years when Stevens took office. His job was to acquire funding to build the state's infrastructure, just like New York got. If he hadn't done it, Alaskans would have fired him. After 40 years serving his state, he surely should have something really significant to show for it. He does, and he and Alaskans should make no apologies in that regard.

Finally, the National Review's editorial tells Alaska how it should conduct its election, suggesting Stevens could resign at a time most advantageous to the Republicans. If Stevens resigned before the primary, the Review concludes, then one of the weaker Republican candidates would get voters' nod and be less likely to beat Democrat Mark Begich in the general election. But, if Stevens won the primary and then resigned, the Republican Party could nominate a stronger candidate, in the thoughts of the National Review, perhaps resulting in preserving a Republican Senate seat.

But the National Review then says this would be too politically calculated and should not be done.

When Stevens wins the primary, it will be clear that he is the Republicans' choice. He shouldn't resign. He should campaign toward the general.

The National Review isn't the only publication that appears to be lobbying its political agenda. The Washington Post's online edition led with the Stevens story. Right above the story? An advertisement that reads: "Mark Begich For U.S. Senate." That shows Alaska's Senate race is of major national import, likely to involve the best and the worst campaign-related activities.

Sen. Stevens is in a political fight. He is fighting not only for his reputation, but for Alaska and Alaskans. And he should keep fighting.

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