Last week Alaskans heard one of the biggest news stories ever.
I was deeply saddened to read that U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens had been indicted on charges related to the ongoing federal investigation into VECO Corp.'s corruptive influence on Alaska politics. Upon reading the indictment, I immediately began to assess things in a different light.
Ted Stevens has represented Alaska in the U.S. Senate since I was 1 year old. I grew up knowing his name and that he was in Washington on my behalf. As I came to understand politics more and more, Stevens was a constant presence. My elders regarded him as a pugnacious yet effective advocate for Alaska; even Democrats had at least grudging respect.
In our nation's capital as an undergraduate at Georgetown University, I saw that Stevens had become a major force in the Senate, highly respected even by political foes. When I returned to Alaska to work for the state Legislature in the early 1990s, he had become known as "Uncle Ted" for his tireless devotion to ensuring that our relatively young and undeveloped state received a healthy share of federal budget allocations. He was seen as an irreplaceable asset by everyone in the state Capitol.
At the end of the 1990s I went to law school and did the first of four co-operative internships in Stevens' office. I learned how many Alaskans - of all backgrounds and political persuasions - had the opportunity to be part of the team. It was a great experience which further reinforced my respect for the senator. His support for programs most important to me, like the arts and public broadcasting, augmented my admiration for this extraordinary man.
No one is irreplaceable; Stevens knows that as well as you or I. At the same time, as he seeks one more term we must ask, is now the time to replace him? I think not. I do believe Stevens made an unfortunate decision to allow someone he thought was a friend to oversee remodeling his Alaskan residence.
I also believe that if Stevens knew then what we all now know about Bill Allen, he wouldn't have proceeded with this arrangement.
Allen is a dishonest, sad shell of a man. He now has to say and do anything and everything the federal authorities want to prevent his son from being charged and to avoid forfeiting the fortune from the scandal-prompted sale of VECO.
The authorities have even suspended criminal investigations of Allen's liaisons with minor women while he "cooperates." This must be considered in assessing the charges against Stevens, because without Allen's testimony, I highly doubt the evidence will show that he willingly or knowingly failed to report anything.
The FBI has scrutinized Stevens' dealings as thoroughly as possible, yielding charges of false reporting. Instead of referring the matter to the Senate Secretary or Ethics Committee, giving the filer an opportunity to correct the filings and make other appropriate amends, Stevens stands charged with seven felonies.
How many other U.S. senators have ever failed properly to disclose gifts, and what was done in those situations? Is Stevens being treated fairly in comparison to his colleagues who've committed similar indiscretions, and if not, why? Is it because of the way the failure to report gifts came to light?
Stevens has told us that he didn't learn of the inaccuracy of the filings until his house was raided. Who would've told him ... Bill Allen, after he'd surrendered all autonomy to the Department of Justice? Or some disgruntled VECO workmen who had to redo some of their shoddy work?
Many Alaskans think Stevens ought to have known that he wasn't paying full value for the remodeling services he received, but I believe him when he says he just paid the bills he was sent. Why would he throw away four decades of service for some heating tape and a tool-chest? It just doesn't make sense.
The man who thinks he deserves to succeed Stevens is not a bad person. I know Mark Begich, and he's as smart and ambitious as any Alaska politician ever. But he has yet to explain to Alaskans why he failed to report a $25,000 cash "gift/commission" related to the sale of office buildings in midtown Anchorage. Isn't this more egregious than Stevens' error? If Alaskans take the time to view the facts in perspective, I think we'll see that Stevens not only should be acquitted, but also is the right choice to be our senior U.S. senator for six more years.
Ben Brown is a Juneau resident and lifelong Alaskan.
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