Colleagues Honor Stevens as He Approaches Senate Milestone
On the day before Sen. Ted Stevens (Alaska) becomes the longest-serving Republican Senator in history, his colleagues took to the floor to toast his “outsize” accomplishments, ranging from helping to bring running water to villages in his home state to his work on the authorization of the trans-Alaska pipeline.
“He was there at the creation” of Alaska, said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), asserting that Stevens’ name had become “synonymous with the nation’s largest state.”
“As a young lawyer at the Department of the Interior, Ted Stevens stood over a map with President Eisenhower and traced out the border of the 49th state,” McConnell said.
On Friday (a mere nine presidential administrations later), the 83-year-old Stevens will have served 13,990 days in the Senate, breaking the late Sen. Strom Thurmond’s (S.C.) record of 13,989 days as a Republican Senator. (Thurmond served longer than Stevens, but about a decade of that service was as a Democrat.)
When former Sen. Bob Bartlett (D) — one of Alaska’s first Senators after its admittance to the union in 1959 — died in 1968, Stevens, then a member of the state House, was appointed to fill his seat and has remained in office since. (The chamber’s longest-serving Senator, West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd, began his service in 1959.)
Among Stevens’ colleagues who rose to pay tribute was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who reminisced about a Congressional trip led by Stevens and then-Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio) to East Central Europe amid the Cold War. Reid spoke of spending the night in a bar in Prague as their group was regaled (in the presence of a likely “KGB plant”) by Glenn’s and Stevens’ stories of flying missions during World War II. (Stevens flew C-46 transport planes over the Himalayas and into China in support of the Flying Tigers.)
Reid also lauded the bipartisan relationship shared by Stevens and Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), beginning his remarks by accidentally referring to Stevens as Inouye before quickly correcting himself. Reid credited the Inouye-Stevens friendship — the two men even have contributed money to each other’s campaign accounts — as the example that “paved the way for [the] relationship that Sen. [John] Ensign (R-Nev.) and I have.”
Inouye also took to the floor and bestowed his best friend and Senatorial “brother” with a rather catchy, if quirky, moniker. “We’ve just given him a new title, the Strom Thurmond of the Arctic Circle,” Inouye said.
Inouye said that although Stevens “represents glaciers and I represent coconuts,” the two had much in common, including the dubious distinction of being dubbed “porkmen of the year,” for their acumen at securing massive appropriations for their home states.
Several Senators also made light of Stevens’ habit of wearing an Incredible Hulk tie during fierce legislative battles. Reid recalled that Stevens once had given him one of his famed neckties after completing a tough appropriations bill. Meanwhile, Stevens’ fellow Alaska Senator and one-time intern Lisa Murkowski (R) gushed: “The people of Alaska love it when you put on your superhero tie” because it’s a “symbol you mean business.” She also rattled off a long list of his key legislative successes related to the development of Alaska, including the creation of the Denali Commission.
Referencing Stevens’ tough-guy persona, McConnell said the senior Alaska Senator, who apparently still trains on a speed bag, “helped pay his way through law school by tending bar and selling his own blood.”
Stevens, who appeared to sit quietly with an impassive face during most of the tributes, stood briefly to declare himself “embarrassed” by all the attention and to thank his family (including his first wife, Ann, who died in a plane crash in 1978) for their “support” over the years.
A Stevens spokesman said the Senator will spend Friday with his second wife, Catherine, and their daughter, Lily.