Former Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, died Tuesday in a plane crash at Dillingham, Alaska, a fishing village on Bristol Bay in western Alaska. He was 86.
Stevens was a tireless advocate for Alaska. He rose to be chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee as well as the Commerce Committee. In a 40-year career in the Senate, he steered billions of federal dollars to projects in his home state, including the Alaska pipeline and the international airport in Anchorage that bears his name. For his efforts the state named him Alaskan of the Century in 2000.
For all his largesse to the state, Stevens, along with Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, in 2005 faced public ridicule on a national scale for a $200 million transportation boondoggle, called the “Bridge to Nowhere,” intended to connect a sparsely populated island with the mainland city of Ketchikan. The bridge became a symbol of the excesses in government spending. Later in the year, the proposal was withdrawn.
“From the very beginning, Ted was Alaska’s greatest champion,” said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, ranking member on the Commerce Committee. “He helped found his state, worked tirelessly to serve its unique needs in the Senate, and continued to be its fiercest advocate for the rest of his life.”
Stevens was born in Indiana in November 1923. He flew with the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II, piloting transport planes over the “Hump” between Burma and China. The duty earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1950, and served on the legal staff of the Department of the Interior, becoming chief counsel in 1960. Stevens used his tenure at the department to push for Alaska statehood.
In 1961 Stevens returned to Anchorage, Alaska, and entered politics. He served in the state legislature until 1968, when he was appointed to the Senate to fill an unexpired term. He was re-elected six times.
Stevens lost the 2008 election to former Anchorage Mayor Ted Begich, a Democrat. The election took place while Stevens was under indictment for making false statements on financial disclosure forms. He was convicted in October 2008, but in April 2009 a federal judge dismissed the case after Attorney General Eric Holder found prosecution notes that should have been shared with Stevens’ attorneys.
Stevens and four others were killed, according to the National Transportation Safety Board, which released no further details. The float plane that crashed was carrying nine passengers.
Sean O’Keefe, director of NASA for three years in the Bush administration, survived the crash, as did his teenage son, Kevin, according to the NASA Watch Web site. O’Keefe, 54, was a longtime friend and protégé of the senator. He is currently an executive at EADS North America
-- Contact R.G. Edmonson at email@example.com.