What will life be like in Alaska without Stevens?
If the late Robert Byrd, DW. Va., was the “king of pork,” Stevens was the “Emperor of Earmarks,” said the head of a group against government waste.
Stevens’ 2008 re-election loss, under an ethical cloud that found him guilty of failing to report some gifts, ended his career as the longest-serving Republican senator ever. The conviction was reversed in 2009 for overzealous prosecution. But Alaskans were already beginning to realize that the fat days of condemning the federal government, while successfully milking it for an enormous amount of money, might be coming to a halt.
And then, during our Alaska visit, Stevens was tragically killed Aug. 9, when a float plane on a fishing expedition crashed into a mountain in foul weather.
Stevens, probably appropriately, died with his boots on, if fishing waders count. He and his companions were en route from a private lodge to a remote fishing area reached by air.
The outpouring of sentiment for “Uncle Ted,” as Stevens was known, underlined how much bacon Stevens had brought home for Alaska during his four decades in the Senate.
That was particularly true during the past several years, after Stevens was chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee for six years, and then chairman of the powerful Commerce Committee while still a ranking member of Appropriations.
He put a capital E on Earmarks, those projects that don’t go through the usual public review. He tagged onto the federal budget a number of projects for Alaska, including a first-class hospital for Alaska’s Native American population, a top-notch place for Alaska’s public radio and television operations, the expensive renovation of the airport that now bears his name, and an effort to protect and promote the Alaska fishing industry, upon which half of the state’s population depends for their livelihood.
Stevens was the sponsor of the so-called “Bridges to Nowhere,” a proposal which would have cost several hundred million dollars.
Remember that one? It gained some additional infamy because former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was for it -- before she was against it.
In 2006, running for governor, Palin appeared in Ketchikan. Referring to living in the Matanuska- Susitna Valley, she said, “OK, you’ve got Valley trash standing here in the middle of Nowhere. I think we’re going to make a good team as we progress that bridge project.”
On Aug. 29, 2008, being introduced as Republican presidential nominee John McCain’s running mate, Palin said, “I told Congress thanks but no thanks on that bridge to nowhere.”
As an example of the imbalance in federal earmark spending on Alaska, CBS reported in 2007 that while Texas got about $98 per person in federal earmark money, and New York about the same, Alaskans hauled in about $4,300 for each person. That’s about 43 times what Texans drew down.
In FY 2005, Alaska received $1.84 for each dollar sent to the federal government, to rank third in federal dollars per dollar collected from the state, contrasted to 94 cents for Texas, which ranked 35th. (The two states with greater income versus outgo than Alaska were New Mexico and Mississippi.)
What the impact of the loss of Stevens and his financial clout for Alaska and Alaskans over the years will be now remains to be seen. But the Tea Party sympathizers in Alaska, like Palin, who never miss a chance to damn the feds, may get a taste of what it’s like when the feds actually take them up on staying out of their lives.
Ground Zero Mosque. . . . It’s interesting to watch the hubbub over President Barack Obama saying that there’s no federal prohibition against building a Mosque near the site of the Twin Towers terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001.
It’s good to remember that this comes at a time when America’s commitment to freedom and equality are being closely watched by folks in other nations. Do we really mean it when we say that our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are against terrorists and militants, and not against Islam?
Do we really mean it when we say that Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of religion? Do we want to celebrate the fact that many, many peace-loving Muslims are participating in the American melting pot?
We have the utmost respect for the grief of the survivors of the thousands of people who died in the terrorist attack. But we may do well to remember we have fought several wars to defend the rights and liberties that Americans enjoy. We shouldn’t stop now, out of a misplaced notion that anyone of the Muslim faith is the equivalent of a terrorist.
Contact McNeely at davemcneely111@gmail. com or (512) 458-2963.