Sen. Ted Stevens is an institution in Washington, D.C., and Alaska, where he moved before it was a state. He is legendary for the hundreds of millions of dollars he directs to his state, which leads the nation in its per capita share of federal funds and, say watchdog groups, pork per person. (Stevens was behind the notorious "bridge to nowhere.") He is a seven-term senator and the Senate’s senior Republican.
And that, perhaps, is the problem. His age, 84, and seniority have apparently brought him an almost imperious sense of entitlement. How else to explain the predicament he is now in.
On Monday, a jury in the nation’s capital found him guilty of seven felony counts of corruption for hiding from the public and his Senate colleagues more than $250,000 in gifts and home renovations and repairs. And some of it was really penny ante stuff for a man of his stature — a gas grill, a toolbox, a massage chair that he improbably claimed had been on loan to him for seven years, underreporting the value of a gift dog.
At the trial, this master of legislative minutiae said that he had left his wife in charge of the work on their house — done for free by employees of an oil services company — and that he had assumed she was taking care of all the bills.
During the trial he bristled that the prosecutors should have the effrontery to question his activities and after the verdict denounced "the unconscionable manner in which the Justice department lawyers conducted this trial."
As it is, all of his prospects now are unhappy ones.
Rare for him, he faces a strong re-election challenge next Tuesday from Anchorage mayor Nick Begich and there’s a real possibility he could lose and help hand the Democrats a veto-proof majority.
If he wins, he returns to a position of vastly diminished influence, a protracted Senate ethics committee investigation and possible expulsion from the Senate if he loses his court appeals. If he does lose those appeals, he faces the prospect of a token amount of jail time.
He could swallow his pride and beg — or have his friends beg on his behalf — President Bush, who has been stingy with both, for a pardon or clemency.
Stevens is already receiving coded advice about what to do next. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said he must "be held accountable until the public trust can be restored." Democratic leader Harry Reid said the senator "must now respect the outcome of the judicial process and the dignity of the United States Senate." Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin said she’s confident he’ll "do what’s right for the people of Alaska."
In other words, just go. It is a remarkable fall for a remarkable lawmaker.