Politics & Government

Stevens is an Alaska icon

WASHINGTON — Ted Stevens, a World War II veteran, is a 1947 graduate of the University of California and a 1950 Harvard law school graduate. He began his career in private practice and served as a U.S. Attorney and as a lawyer for the Interior Department during Alaska's statehood bid.

As former chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee when Republicans controlled the chamber, Stevens was one of the most powerful men in Congress. In Alaska, that translated into an unprecedented pipeline of federal money for infrastructure and social programs -- and the nickname "Uncle Ted."

He also has funneled millions of dollars into Arctic research, and as a longtime appropriator on the Defense Appropriations subcommittee, he has ensured the state's military bases have plenty of money — and stay open.

Stevens championed the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, pushing it through the Senate by one vote in 1973, unlocking Alaska to an oil boom that its leaders hope can be repeated by opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. That, too, has been one of Stevens' signature issues over the years.

In 2006, when the Senate rejected his plan to open AMWR to oil drilling, Stevens called it "the saddest day of my life." He spewed venom at those who had voted against him, saying "I'm going to go to every one of your states, and I'm going to tell them what you've done!"

He was also widely ridiculed in 2006 for threatening to resign if the Senate took away $452 million earmarked for Alaska's two "bridges to nowhere," although the projects were technically those of the state's lone congressman, Don Young, then chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

Although much of it is bluster, his temper has often got the better of him. Stevens often mocks it by wearing a signature "Incredible Hulk" tie. When he took over as chairman of the Appropriations Committee in 1997, he warned: "I'm a mean, miserable SOB."

Last year, he threatened retaliation once the federal corruption investigation was over. Stevens complained that he and his son's name had been mentioned repeatedly whenever any news organization reported on the ongoing corruption investigation.

"We've been included in a way that I hope people understand the laws that are doing it," he said. "Because when it's all over, some people are going to have to account for what they've said and what they've charged us with."

But Alaskans have thanked Stevens for his single-minded devotion to the state's issues, reelecting him seven times after his 1968 appointment to the Senate seat. In his last election, he carried all but three precincts in Alaska. In 2000, Stevens was named "Alaskan of the Century" and the Anchorage airport was renamed the Ted Stevens International Airport.