Even now, facing an arraignment today at 1PM, presumptive felon Sen. Ted Stevens enjoys the boozy adulation of many Alaskans, convinced somehow that Alaska would be nothing without him: a barren region of wilderness, without Denny's, without Wal Mart, occupied by several dozen hard-scrabble people surviving by scrapping lichen off the snow-covered rocks, clothed in the shredded remains of Carhardts.
I'm not going to reiterate the history, but I will say this:
Ted Stevens made much- though far from all - of Alaska in his image: greedy, mean, miserable son of a bitch of places, soured from a state of infinite potential. He corroded it top to bottom, enfeebling its government at all levels, selling out its heart and soul to oil giants who ultimately don't give a flying intercourse about the people and land of Alaska.
In spite of, or more likely because of his federal successes, many Alaskans - the ones who became dominant politically for so long - developed a third-world mentality, an ingrained sycophancy for big oil, a destructive expectation of personal enrichment from the government and yet a spitting contempt for anyone weaker than them. This had next to nothing to do with the progressive, egalitarian and libertarian state I grew up in - where rapaciousness and irresponsbility were certainly de rigeur, but not giant company suck-up-it-tude.
Even his greatest accomplishments, most notably the Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement Act, which did some wonders for the state's native population, but were hardly his sole accomplishment, have taken one of the most equal and free societies on earth and created an increasingly rigid and self-aggrandizing class structure, a great division into rich and poor worlds rather than the sense of brotherhood and shared risk of a difficult frontier. Real Alaskans know they depend on each for survival, but it was this very ethos that Stevens and cronies have worked so hard to destroy.
As a side note- it's been interesting to see him now from the perspective of a Washington State resident- destroying good laws and proposals out of unadulterated vindictiveness and a huge, easily bruised ego, like some kind of unholy overripe giant peach.
As a result of Ted Stevens, this corporate/poor class division reached into native culture as well, and in spite of the very success of ANLCSA (which is must be said is infitely better than the treatment most Native Americans received) a lot of native and non-native Alaskans are not escaping suicide, alcholism, lack of basic health care and limited education and all this in a state with virtually unparalled spending power. In my view, almost all of these problems were solvable, and the failure has been profound in the oil era.
Many of these problems have only gotten worse as public money was blown time and again on precisely the concrete building nonsense Stevens pioneered, all the while literally whining that he wasn't a millionaire. And the deepening class change, the ugliness of the cities and many political attitudes - endemic to societies that feast on resource extraction- breaks my heart every time I visit.
Worse, he has been the biggest tool in oil's pocket. The fallout of that is seen today in the decline of America as a great power, and the tremendous peril facing the whole planet.
He is a small, awful little man, shrivelled by his black-hearted greed, convinced by endless sycophants that his every whim is a public service. Federal charges won't begin to make up for his malfeasance, his corruption, his leadership of the state straight into the darkest and smallest of politics.
Finally, the long-sought glimmer of post-oil Alaska begins to kindle, due to the hard work of a lot of people who, unlike me, stuck it out and tried to build a better future. The working philosophy of modern Republicans, and especially of Stevens- never give a sucker an even break -is out of gas.
Sometimes, to progress, you have to wait for old men to fade and die. Or be arrested on felony charges. So what do Alaskans really owe Senator Ted Stevens?
Hard time. For corruption in high office, and moral betrayal of his state and his country.