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Ted Stevens Dies at 86; Long-Tenured Senator Helped Shape Alaska


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NY Times:

Ted Stevens, who helped shape modern Alaska with federal laws and billions in federal dollars but whose 40-year Senate career ended ignominiously when he was narrowly defeated for re-election in 2008 after a corruption conviction that was later voided, died Monday in a plane crash in southwest Alaska. He was 86.

His death was confirmed Tuesday afternoon by a former member of his Congressional staff.

Mr. Stevens was one of nine people aboard the plane, five of whom were believed to have been killed, the authorities said. The downed airplane was spotted around 7 p.m. Monday. Mr. Stevens’s body was found just after daylight Tuesday, according to the aide, who would only speak anonymously out of respect for the senator’s family.

In 1978, Mr. Stevens was almost killed in a plane crash in Alaska in which his first wife, the former Ann Cherrington, and four others died.

Mr. Stevens, who served in the Senate longer than any other Republican, was known as a fierce advocate for his state and for his monumental temper, which was voted the “hottest” on Capitol Hill in a 2006 poll of Congressional staffers by Washingtonian magazine.

In October 2008, a federal jury of District of Columbia residents found that Mr. Stevens had concealed more than $250,000 in gifts and convicted him on seven felony counts. Eight days later, he lost a bid for a seventh term to Mayor Mark Begich of Anchorage, a Democrat.

In April 2009, the conviction was thrown out at the request of Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. Mr. Holder said prosecutors, who had been repeatedly chided by Judge Emmet G. Sullivan for withholding information from the defense, had concealed interview notes in which the chief witness against Mr. Stevens had told a story different from the one he told on the stand.

Mr. Stevens later said that while the case against him had initially shaken his faith in the judicial system, because of Mr. Holder’s and Judge Sullivan’s actions, “my faith has been restored.”

In his 2008 campaign, Mr. Stevens reminded Alaskans of what he had done for them. “From frozen tundra,” he said, “we built airports, roads, ports, water and sewer systems, hospitals, clinics, communications networks, research labs, and much, much more.” He drew large amounts of military spending to the state as well as money for small businesses.

Mr. Stevens’s legislative work in the 1970s included passing major bills settling Native land claims that had been left in limbo when statehood was established in 1959; creating the Alaska Pipeline, which made the state rich; and protecting the state’s fisheries from exploitation.

In 2000, the State Legislature named Mr. Stevens the Alaskan of the Century, saying he “represents Alaska’s finest contribution to our national leadership.” In his farewell speech on Nov. 20, 2008, he told the Senate, “Working to help Alaska achieve its potential has been and will continue to be my life’s work.”

But he was roundly and repeatedly criticized for the billions he funneled to his state. The watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste said Mr. Stevens regularly got Alaska more dollars per capita than any other state, often through earmarks, the pet projects that lawmakers attach to legislation.

“Ted Stevens was a prolific procurer of pork-barrel projects,” said Tom Schatz, the group’s president, when Mr. Stevens left the Senate. “While his friend Senator Robert Byrd was called ‘the king of pork,’ Ted Stevens was the emperor of earmarks. Since we started counting in 1991, Senator Stevens has accumulated 1,452 projects worth $3.4 billion. That is a record amount.”

But Mr. Stevens fiercely defended earmarks, saying Alaska had special needs because the federal government owned much of its land; because the state’s rugged terrain and severe weather required particular help; because, as the 49th state, Alaska needed to catch up with its elders; because of its strategic location near Russia; and because its oil and gas were national resources.

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Ted Stevens plane crash update. He was not what you would call the best face for the Republican Party, but my thoughts and prayers are with his family.
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