Alaskans turning against Stevens after verdict

By: MARY PEMBERTON, Associated Press Writer
By: MARY PEMBERTON, Associated Press Writer
ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Alaskans fondly call longtime Sen. Ted Stevens their "Uncle Ted" for his ability to steer gobs of federal money to his home state, but his conviction in a corruption case Monday had many residents crying: "Throw the bum out."

(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Alaskans fondly call longtime Sen. Ted Stevens their "Uncle Ted" for his ability to steer gobs of federal money to his home state, but his conviction in a corruption case Monday had many residents crying: "Throw the bum out."

Dave Thibault, of Wasilla, said there was no doubt that the guilty verdict will affect his vote on Nov. 4.

"Oh, he is guilty and it is time we change the face of Alaska's politician," he said.

Thibault, who has been a North Slope oil workers for 25 years, said it is time someone new represent Alaska in the nation's capital.

Stevens has represented Alaska for 40 of its 49 years since statehood in 1959.

"Shame, shame. Go down with the rest of them, I guess," Thibault said of Stevens, referring to the VECO Corp. scandal that so far has resulted in corruption convictions for two state lawmakers. "He's tainted now."

A federal court jury in Washington, D.C., found Stevens guilty on all seven counts of lying on Senate disclosure forms to conceal $250,000 in gifts and renovations on his Girdwood home from VECO workers.

Two former VECO executives, Bill Allen and Rick Smith, have been convicted of bribing Alaska lawmakers and are assisting the government in the continuing investigation. Allen was the government's star witness against Stevens.

Stevens said he would not resign from the Senate and was planning on being back in Alaska on Wednesday to campaign for re-election.

Patti Higgins, chairwoman of the Alaska Democratic Party, said Stevens is moving in the wrong direction.

"Senator Stevens' felony convictions are very serious and he should immediately resign from the Senate," Higgins said, reading from a statement. "Alaskans deserve better from their public officials, it's time for us to elect an ethical and honest senator who will move this state forward."

Thea Nelson, who works in human resources for a nonprofit agency serving the disabled in Juneau, described the verdict as great and said it should not have taken this long.

Nelson said she never trusted Stevens, never voted for him and always figured he was "padding somebody's pocket."

"We need fresh blood in there, people who are really out for what's best for Alaska and not the old boy club anymore," Nelson said.

Not all Alaskans were ready, however, to turn their backs on Stevens.

Mike Hubbard, 52, of Wasilla said the jury got it wrong, at least in finding Stevens guilty on all seven counts.

Hubbard said he still plans to vote for Stevens because he doesn't think much of opponent Mark Begich, the Democratic mayor of Anchorage. Besides, he said, Stevens has worked with Alaska's best interests in mind for decades.

If anything, what happened was that Allen took advantage of Stevens' good nature and Stevens got caught up in something, Hubbard said.

Back in the 1980s, gift-giving was not unusual in his business, said Hubbard, who manages construction projects. It wasn't unusual to be offered fly-in fishing trips, hunting trips and other gifts.

That is gone now, Hubbard said.

"It was just a way of expressing gratitude," he aid. "Now it is considered buying influence."

John Cherben, 62, a heavy equipment operator from Anchorage who describes himself as a "staunch conservative," said he plans to vote for Stevens, anyway.

"I think it was a sham," Cherben said of the trial. "I am 99 percent sure he won't spend a day in jail."

During his four decades in office, Stevens — the longest serving Republican in the history of the Senate — helped bring about $3.4 billion in federal spending to Alaska.

And his name is everywhere: The Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport; Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute; Ted and Catherine Stevens Center for Science and Technology Education and the Stevens Family Chalet at the Hilltop Ski Area in Anchorage.

What do you do when Alaska's most famous son is now the state's most famous felon, and what do you do with those names?

Roger Wetherell, spokesman for the state's Department of Transportation, said the airport was renamed in 2000 — the same year The Alaskan of the Year Committee tapped Stevens as the state's person of the century.

"It's highly doubtful that we would pull down the name moments after the verdict," Wetherell said. "We would most likely have to look to the legislative process for renaming a public building."

Begich, Stevens' challenger in next week's election, took no questions after a chamber of commerce candidate's forum Monday, and addressed neither Stevens nor the trial directly.

"This has been a very difficult year for Alaskans, and a long year," Begich said. "Alaskans are strong and resilient. I believe Alaskans will move forward because we have many critical issues and challenges ahead of us to deal with."

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Associated Press Writers Dan Joling, Adam Goldman, Mark Thiessen, and Anne Sutton in Juneau contributed to this report.


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