Yesterday a jury in Washington DC found Alaska Senator Ted Stevens guilty on seven counts of felony. A jury of his citizen peers did not accept his explanation that he thought he was paying for all the work on his home. If I had a whole new floor added to my home and all sorts of renovations done to it I am certain I would know whether I had paid for the work or not. He was asking the jury to accept that he was a horrendous manager of his home and personal accounts while be one of the most skilled managers of the Republican agenda in the Senate.
While such a conviction a week prior to an election would end a political career, I would be surprised if he goes down to defeat. For my Canadian family and foreign readers the strong possibility of Stevens of being reelection serves as the prime example of dynamics that are at play in American politics.
Stevens is one of the longest serving Republicans in the Senate. Multiple term Senators, more than any other elected official, become somewhat god-like in their power on the Hill and back home. Many of these Senators are served by a cadre of local staff who are not only at their beckon call but act their messengers. Acting solely upon general verbal directions, some staff do the Senator’s dirty work while keeping the Senator out of harms way by becoming the fall guy/gal when something goes wrong.
Senators do not carry their own luggage. Staff does that for them. Staff pulls their car to the door. Staffers wash their car and take it in for servicing. Often staffers drive them from place to place. For some Senators staff shop for their groceries. Some have staff buy Christmas and birthday gifts for friends and even family. Aircraft are held for them when they run a few minutes late. They have special seats at sports and arts events. They function is a style that can cause them to a divine-like complex and to be out of touch with what the average citizen experiences on Main Street.
McCain has called for Stevens to drop out of the race. McCain has noted that Stevens “has broken his trust with the people.” Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee stated, "Ted Stevens served his constituents for over 40 years, and I am disappointed to see his career end in disgrace….Senator Stevens had his day in court, and the jury found he violated the public's trust _ as a result he is properly being held accountable. This is a reminder that no one is above the law."
Yet Stevens refuses saying that he will fight on and that he is a victim of a witch hunt. He is likely to win because of his power and influence. His immense power has allowed him to amass a huge sum to flood the airwaves and mail boxes with his “I am an innocent victim” message. He may be convicted of seven felonies but he is asking people to believe that they were not real crimes, it was not real corruption. Unfortunately many in Alaska will believe that message and vote for Stevens.
In Alaska, as well as in other states, Stevens’ message will resonate. He is also posturing himself as being the victim of a big governmental bureaucracy. This too will resonate. People will rally behind their local hero and believe he is the victim of a rogue prosecutor from outside the state.
Another factor that must not be dismissed is all the money he has brought to Alaska. In the last five years alone he has brought $3.5 billion in pork barrel money to Alaska. “Spreading the wealth” is another term for earmarks.
Through earmarks Stevens has bought strong loyalties and defeated opponents. If you do not get along with him, he will prevent your town, company or organization from feeding at the government trough. Though most of his constituents, like those in most states, are against government waist and pork barrel spending, they are against it only when it goes to places outside their own state. A good number of people will stick with Stevens because they do not want the gravy train to end.
Others will vote for him only because though he has been convicted of crimes, he is a Republican. They would rather have a Republican crook as their representative than a Democrat regardless how upright he may be. And least we forget, Alaska is a very heavy Republican state.
While those outside Alaska have called for him to end the race, there is no national party mechanism for them to force the issue. The Senator still holds the power in Alaska. No Republican in Alaska will dare to voice McCain’s or Ensign’s statements. Alaskans officials will stand by their man least they loose their own head. As Republican Representative Don Young has said in response to McCain’s statement, Stevens “is the best think for the Senate.”
If Stevens is returned to the Senate the Senate will be required to review his convictions with an eye toward possibly removing him from the Senate. Stevens will likely use very political move and trick possible to prevent any investigation or removal from the Senate. One of his arguments may well be that they people of Alaska returned him to the Senate even though he was convicted and the Senate should accept their choice. And the gravy train will continue.
While Ensign’s and McCain’s calls are signs of hope for the Republican Party Stevens is at the heart of what is currently wrong with the Republican Party and in general, with a system that allows Senators to serve more than three terms.