My Turn: Senator Stevens: A mentor to all

Posted: Sunday, August 15, 2010

In 2002, I applied for an internship in the Washington, D.C. office of Sen. Ted Stevens. As a junior at the University of California at Berkeley with political views slightly more liberal than the Senator's and no political connections to the clubby world of Alaskan politics, I mailed in my application with little hope that I would receive a positive reply.

To my surprise, I was accepted. As a part of the internship, Stevens offered a housing subsidy and a small stipend for his interns, so I packed up the one suit I owned and moved to Washington, D.C. for the summer.

Unlike many Members of Congress, Stevens met with his summer interns almost every week. I learned he viewed the internship program as a way to expose young Alaskans to the inner workings of the United States Congress. When we met with him, no topic was off limits. We asked him questions, including his views on Title IX and abortion (supportive and pro-choice, respectively), about his relationships with presidents and fellow members of Congress, and for generous amounts of career guidance.

What he loved talking about most, though, was Alaska. He was deeply committed to improving the lives of Alaskans and to the continued growth of the state, which is why he became known as Uncle Ted. He worked across party lines to pass landmark legislation, such as the Magnuson-Stevens Act on fisheries management. He steered federal funds to the state spurring the construction of vital phone lines, roads, and sewage systems.

Toward the end of our three-month internship, a small group of interns joined Stevens for a taped question-and-answer session planned for distribution throughout the state via the Alaska Regional Communication Service. Stevens mispronounced my last name several times until I interjected by saying, "Senator, 'Ver' rhymes with 'bear.'" He insisted on rerecording those sections.

A year later, when I was a staff member on Tony Knowles' senate campaign, I ran into Stevens at the Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage. Covering the sticker on my lapel, I said hello to him. He stopped, wrinkled his forehead, and said, "Ver rhymes with bear." He asked what I was up to and I sheepishly removed my hand from the sticker. He simply said, "Well, I am just happy that you are actively engaged in the process." That was the last time I ever spoke to him in person.

After the Knowles campaign, I moved across the country to work on Tim Kaine's campaign to be come governor of Virginia. I then worked for the Commonwealth of Virginia, on both Hillary Clinton's and President Obama's presidential campaigns, and for the State of New York. Most recently, I worked in the U.S. Labor of Department as Deputy Director of Intergovernmental Affairs.

I mention all of this because it is the internship in Stevens' office that inspired me to seek a career in public service. He was a mentor to me and many other young Alaskans. Thank you, Senator.

• Ver is a Juneau native and 2000 graduate of Juneau-Douglas High school. He is currently a first-year law student at U.C. Berkley.

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