This is the grave of Ted Stevens.
Born in 1923 in Indianapolis, Stevens grew up pretty poor in a broken home. After his paternal grandfather died in 1934, he moved to California to live with his maternal grandmother. He went to high school in Manhattan Beach, where he became a pretty good surfer, a thing that is hard for me to comprehend. He went to Oregon State University in 1942 (hardly surprising for the Beavs to be associated with such a toad) to study engineering. He had a little trouble joining the military in World War II because of some eye issues, but he got that problem corrected and was finally accepted into the Army Air Force Air Cadet program in 1943. He became a pilot with the Fourteenth Air Force Transit Section, supporting the Flying Tigers in Asia. He received not only medals from the U.S. government, but the Chiang government in China.
Stevens was discharged from the military in 1946 and started college again, this time at UCLA, where he received a degree in political science. He then went to Harvard Law, graduating in 1950. He started working at a DC law firm. One of the firm’s clients was an Alaska coal mine that sold its product to the military. Stevens was assigned to the client. Already a strong Republican, Stevens volunteered for the Eisenhower campaign in 1952, writing position papers on water law and western lands. Eisenhower has a completely unearned reputation for moderation in the present. On issues such as the West, Eisenhower was horrible, appointing the same types of people that Reagan, W, and Trump appointed who wanted to destroy all protections for public lands. Stevens was this type from the beginning. He thought Eisenhower was going to pay off for his work. But due to the reduced hiring in the government that the new president implemented, Stevens, who wasn’t really that important yet, got froze out. But he had already quit his law firm job. Whoops!
This is how Stevens ended up in Alaska. He got a job with a law firm in Fairbanks and moved there in 1953, where he immediately started sucking up to the territory’s Republicans as it moved toward statehood. He also finally got his pay back for his work for Eisenhower, when he was named acting U.S. Attorney for Alaska in the summer of 1953 and then got the job permanently in 1954. This was an interesting situation because the Republican establishment in Alaska was outraged that a newcomer with effectively no trial experience would get such a peach position. But Stevens had all the DC connections, including with powerful people such as William Knowland, the Republican senator from California. The start of Stevens’ career is the ultimate in a DC insider parachuting in somewhere and not having to pay any dues because they know all the right people in the metropole. In any case, Stevens took to the job as a crime fighting tough guide who launched splashy raids against the territory’s libertarian quasi-accepted crimes of bootlegging and prostitution that got his name in the papers a lot.
In 1956, Stevens got to return to D.C. as legislative counsel in the Department of Interior. The Secretary was the odious Douglas McKay, but when he resigned to run for the Senate in Oregon, the Nebraskan Fred Seaton replaced him. McKay didn’t care one whit about Alaskan statehood, but Seaton had friends in Alaska and was a big supporter. Stevens became a huge advocate for it, basically becoming a full-time worker promoting it from within the government. However, Republicans generally opposed Alaskan statehood. A 1950 bill for statehood had passed the House and Truman was ready to sign it. But Senate Republicans had killed it because they worried it would add two more Democrats to the Senate. Stevens’ mission was to assure them that Republicans were very competitive in Alaska. Eisenhower was also worried that statehood would give too much democracy to Alaskans, potentially undermining what the military would need to do if the Soviets invaded. But Stevens and others did the work to assuage all these concerns and Alaska became a state in 1959.
Now, let’s be clear–Stevens was breaking the law every second he worked on this. He was a government employee working full-time on a specific political bill. But ethics never bothered ol’Ted all that much. And he decided on a political career of his own. He returned to Alaska, started a law practice, and ran for the state legislature. He became the House Majority Leader in his second term. He wanted to return to Washington to be a senator and won the Republican nomination in 1962, but lost the general election to Ernest Gruening. In 1968, he ran again, but lost the Republican primary. But later that year, Bob Bartlett died in office and Stevens got the appointment to replace him. He won the special election in 1970, a full term of his own in 1972, and never looked back.
Stevens was a total corporate hack as a senator and therefore not actually all that interesting. He would do anything for the timber industry, fossil fuel industry, defense industry, and anyone else who wanted to exploit the planet’s scarce resources for profit, especially if he or his friends got a little piece of the action. He was the ultimate Washington insider and a huge gatherer of pork for his state. Personally, I don’t really have a problem with this and the anti-pork politics of the 90s and 00s have not really helped the nation function better, even as a lot of those projects might not have been the most efficient way for the nation to build and maintain infrastructure or rationally choose the projects it wants to support. In any case, Stevens was a master of it and as Chair of Appropriations for most of the 1997-2005 period, he brought home a lot of it. He was also a big player in internal Senate politics. He was long a member of leadership and when Howard Baker briefly ran for president in 1980, Stevens became Acting Majority Leader. He was a serious candidate for Majority Leader after Baker retired in 1984, but lost out to Bob Dole, even though Stevens was Whip at the time.
Otherwise, Stevens was the kind of theoretical supporter of women’s choice that Lisa Murkowski is; personally claiming to support it while voting in anti-abortion judges and anti-abortion policies within the Republican Party. Toward the end of his life, he started expressing some level of concern about climate change, but his own policies continuously helped lay the groundwork for the hell of the 21st century. His own statements on these concerns were pretty limited anyway. And then of course, there’s Ted’s legendary rant about the internet, that famed system of tubes.
That never gets old.
In 1978, Stevens survived a plane crash at the Anchorage airport that killed his wife. That near death experience definitely did not make Stevens rethink his relationship with the world. The nakedly corrupt senator from Alaska personally profited off the legislation he helped write. In 2007, the FBI and IRS raided his home after he got a sweetheart deal from a contractor to double its size. Stevens openly worried that the investigation would reveal the massive corruption at the heart of Alaska politics and that he and his friends would end serving prison time. He was found guilty in 2008 of seven counts of failing to report gifts, which is a felony. As part of the broader investigation, there were all sorts of stories about open bribery, including to Stevens’ son. He was the fifth sitting senator to be convicted of a crime by a jury in American history. Back in 2008, Noon covered this story in a lot of detail at LGM, as you can read here, here, and here, where he talks about how “I get fetishes,” among other posts. Stevens then faced a lot of pressure to leave the Senate, with Moscow Mitch telling him that he would support his expulsion and Harry Reid scheduling that vote, saying “a convicted felon is not going to be able to serve in the United States Senate.”
Stevens still refused to resign, but he was facing reelection anyway and the voters of Alaska did it for him, as Mark Begich defeated him that fall. Stevens was the longest serving senator in the history of the Republican Party, with 38 years in the world’s worst deliberative body. In the aftermath, the Stevens case got all fouled up, with the FBI accused of withholding evidence. A very angry Eric Holder then decided to ask the court to vacate the verdict as a sign that he would not tolerate prosecutorial misconduct under his watch.
In 2010, Stevens didn’t escape his next plane crash. He and everyone on board were killed when it crashed on the way to a private fishing lodge in Alaska. Earlier this year, the Navy decided to name a ship after him.
Ted Stevens is buried on the confiscated grounds of the traitor Lee, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.
Stevens won his election for his first full term in 1972. If you would like this series to visit people who were also elected to the Senate that year, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Howard Baker, elected to his second term that year, is in Huntsville, Tennessee and John McClellan, elected to his sixth term, is in Little Rock, Arkansas. Previous posts in this series are archived here.