Bumped and Updated: Almost one year exactly from the date of the original post, Alaska U.S. Senator Ted Stevens has been indicted on seven felony counts of lying...
Sen. Ted Stevens, the longest-serving Republican senator and a figure in Alaska politics since before statehood, was indicted Tuesday on seven counts of failing to disclose thousands of dollars in services he received from a company that helped renovate his home.
The first sitting U.S. senator to face federal indictment since 1993, Stevens has been dogged by a federal investigation into his home renovation project and his dealings with wealthy oil contractors.
The investigation has upended Alaska state politics and cast scrutiny on Stevens -- who is running for re-election this year -- and on his congressional colleague, Rep. Don Young of Alaska, who is also under investigation.
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Alaska, Hotbed of Republican Corruption
August 1, 2007
When it comes to Republican strongholds the state of Alaska ranks in the top tier. The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza refers to Alaska as the "ruby red state," pointing out that Bush carried Alaska by 25 points in 2004 and 31 points in 2000, and Alaska hasn't elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1974.
So it's no surprise that Alaska is ripe with corruption. The oil companies dominate the state's economy, and many Republicans have been slobbering all over themselves for decades in their attempts to open up the pristine, oil-rich Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to drilling. Alaska is a perfect breeding ground for the type of Good Old Boy GOP cronyism, graft, bribery and corruption schemes that the Republicans are famous for.
No doubt the news that the home of Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens (R-Corruption Hotbed) was searched the other day by the IRS and the FBI is not surprising either. As we reported a couple of months ago, Stevens is the subject of an on-going FBI investigation that also includes his son Ben Stevens (he's the former Alaskan state Senate president), and as of our last report the investigation had uncovered evidence of more than $400,000 worth of bribes which were given to Alaskan lawmakers in exchange for favorable energy legislation.
Last May two energy company executives acknowledged giving $243,500 to a state senator's consulting company as a bribe, and although they didn't name the senator that they bribed -- that amount matches the amount their company had paid into son Ben Stevens' consulting company exactly. Alaska's other U.S. Senator, Don Young, has also been implicated in the bribery scandal, and has reported spending over $250,000 in legal fees in his defense.
Alaska has two Republican senators that are both up for re-election, and they both are facing greatly diminished prospects for staying in office for another term. WaPo's Cillizza picks it up from there:
Witness the Club For Growth, a fiscally conservative third party group who has long loathed the earmarking that Stevens and Young so proudly tout for their state. Earlier this month, the Club released a poll, conducted by Red Sea LLC, that seemed to show that even Alaska voters were fed up with this practice.
Asked whether they approved or disapproved of the $223 million in federal spending for a bridge from Ketchikan to Gravina Island (aka the "Bridge to Nowhere") 25 percent said they approved of the money being allocated for the bridge-building while 66 percent disapproved. Seventy-one percent said they would prefer a candidate who "wants to cut overall spending even if that includes cutting some money that would come to Alaska," while just 17 percent favored a candidate "willing to increase overall spending on federal program as long as more federal spending and projects come to Alaska."
Most worrisome for Stevens' electoral prospects was that 47 percent said the following statement was true: "Ted Stevens has done some good things for Alaska but after forty years in Washington it's time for a change"; just 45 percent said that statement was false. Did we mention these are Republican primary voters?
Alaska over the last few cycles has shown a willingness to shake up the political establishment. After two decades in the Senate, Frank Murkowksi (R-Alaska) won the governorship in a landslide in 2002. He went on to appoint his daughter, Lisa, to the vacant Senate seat -- a move that brought charges of nepotism down on both father and daughter. After Lisa Murkowski narrowly beat former Gov. Tony Knowles (D) to win a full Senate term in 2004, Frank Murkowksi was faced with an open revolt from the Republican party in his 2006 re-election bid. He took just 19 percent of the vote in the primary, a stunning collapse and a sign that Alaska voters were ready for a chance. Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin, who ran an outsider and a reformer, won the primary and general election easily and is now enjoying sky-high approval ratings in office.
Alaska is still a solidly Republican state, and the chances of a Democrat taking one or both of these U.S. Senate seats is slim. Nonetheless Alaska, like the rest of the country, is eager for a change from the culture of corruption, and Stevens and Young are unlikely to be returning to Washington. Whether a Democrat or two will be headed for Washington in their place remains to be seen and, as Cillizza explains, there are a few bright blue prospects for those offices:
Democrats have been quietly recruiting in the state on the off chance that either Stevens or Young retires or the Veco scandal badly damages their political prospects. The crown jewel recruit in the state is Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, son of the late Congressman. Begich's last name gives him considerable entree among Alaska voters and his base in Anchorage doesn't hurt either. Begich is said to be considering runs for either the House or Senate but from what we hear is leaning toward the Senate under the belief that holding a House seat every two years is a near impossibility. On the House side, it appears as though former state House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz and 2006 lieutenant governor nominee is the likeliest challenger to Young.
Alaska has a 'rich' history of Republican-led corruption. The Democratic takeover of the U.S. House and Senate may have finally lead to the kind of cleansing now taking place in Alaska. The fact that neither Young nor Stevens shows signs of stepping down, and instead plan to run for re-election, will certainly keep the corruption story in the minds of Alaskans as they go into the primary next year, but will they care enough to pull the blue lever?
Possible, but unlikely. Conservatives in Alaska are already rejoicing over the predictions of some that oil may reach $95 a barrel in the near future, since the state relies on oil revenues so heavily. With that mindset in the forefront for Alaskan conservatives, the Alaska GOP will find a suitable, equally-corrupt replacement for Stevens and Young to keep the energy companies happy with Alaska for many years ahead.
Note: Wizbang Blue is now closed and our authors have moved on. Paul Hooson can now be found at Wizbang Pop!. Please come see him there!