To re-coin an old phrase: I come not to bury Caesar, but to thank him. Thanking Sen. Ted Stevens is something I never before considered doing, any more than I would have donated money to him. Yet, over the past few days, I’ve done both.
For decades, I thought of the senator as a bully riding roughshod over people like myself who have different values, and as a legislator misusing his official powers to enrich himself, his family and his “friends.” Now, my attitude has mellowed. One reason is disgust with the current feeding frenzy as political sharks vie to replace him in the Senate by riding the coattails of his federal indictments, as though he had already been proven guilty, whereas they are all paragons of virtue. Especially loathsome are the advertisements by a southern carpetbagger with the gall to think that he is more able and ethical than Alaska’s homegrown candidates.
I do not know whether Sen. Stevens ever took bribes – whether he ever traded favors for contributions. Indeed, I suspect he would have supported the oil industry and Veco had he never received the favors for which he has been indicted. Not unreasonably, he apparently believed that the oil industry is the core of Alaska’s economy, and that by helping that industry, he helped all of us. If the industry said “thanks” by giving him gifts, was that critically different than you or me saying “thank you” with a check? Not unless there was quid pro quo.
Another reason for my mellowing toward Sen. Stevens is meeting him recently at Kenai’s Industry Appreciation Day. What I met was not just a politician, but a man – a man as worthy as any other of respect, appreciation and consideration. I was reminded less of how he opposed many things I cherish, than of the great things he has done for Alaska – some of which benefit me. In one way or another, he has probably benefited all of us.
I was reminded, too, that resisting temptation is a battle that everyone faces in one form or another – a battle that few people win every time. Is Ted any different from the rest of us in enjoying appreciation for his efforts? Is he any more inclined than you or I to favor those who show appreciation? Would he have been less tempted by industry had the hundreds of thousands of other Alaskans like you and I regularly said thanks for the benefits he brought us – perhaps by sending him an annual gift of even $5?
So now, at long last, even I am thanking him, with words and with a check to help assure he obtains a fair trial. So, too, I ask all my fellow Alaskans to search your memories and your hearts. Ask yourselves whether his decades of service have ever benefited you in any way. If so, send a check, however tiny, to help assure he is not convicted for any crime he did not commit — and above all to say “Thank you, Ted. Whatever your faults, you have done far more good than harm. Much of what is best about Alaska would not be what it is without you.”
Dr. Stephen Stringham earned his mater of science degree at the University of Alaska studying moose and his doctorate degree studying bears. He is the author of five books on Alaska’s wildlife.