By J. Taylor Rushing - 08/19/10 12:37 AM EDT
Former Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) was memorialized on Wednesday in a service in Anchorage that paid homage to him as “Uncle Ted,” the “grandfather of earmarks” and the man who helped make Alaska the 49th state.
Stevens’s memorial service at Anchorage Baptist Temple Church was attended by 11 senators, two congressmen, nine former senators, five former Alaska governors, including Sarah Palin, and Vice President Joe Biden, among others. Speakers included Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii).
Stevens, who served in Congress from 1968 to 2008, died Aug. 9 in a plane crash near Dillingham, Alaska. Stevens was 86 and the longest-serving Republican member of the Senate; as a former president pro tempore, he was third in line to the presidency.
Inouye, who holds the post Stevens once held as the chamber’s Appropriations Committee chairman, paid tribute to his best friend in the Senate, and was the only speaker to reference the corruption charges on which Stevens was convicted in 2008 – though the charges were later dropped. Inouye’s reference to Stevens’s “vindication” was met with sustained applause from the large crowd.
Inouye, who served with Stevens in World War II, recalled that Stevens was sworn in after his appointment to Alaska’s Senate seat on Christmas Eve, 1968 — “a Christmas gift to Alaska.” Inouye called himself and Stevens “the forgotten people” because both their states are so remote.
“Well, we did something about it,” Inouye said to laughter, noting Stevens’s skill for winning federal funds for Alaska.
Inouye recalled Stevens’s passion for an oil pipeline across Alaska, which eventually provided the state crucial revenues, and the fact that the two senators were the first to go on congressional delegations to Iraq and Afghanistan. Inouye said Stevens did nothing less than transform his state, calling him “the grandfather of earmarks.”
“And you can thank him for that,” Inouye said. “I have so many things in my heart that I’d like to share with you. As a result of our friendship, which involved trust and friendship, we made the word ‘bipartisanship’ become real.”
McConnell also saluted Stevens’s ability to win funds for the Frontier State. As Appropriations chairman, the former senator is credited with winning billions in funding Alaska’s roads, bridges, schools and hospitals.
Stevens, in the 1950s, worked in President Dwight Eisenhower’s Interior Department and pushed hard to win Alaska statehood — a mission McConnell said Stevens held close to his heart.
“Ted fought to get that 49th star on the flag, and then he spent the rest of his remarkable life working tirelessly and unapologetically to transform Alaska into a modern state,” McConnell said.
“Ted would say that he worked so hard because there was always so much work to do,” he continued. “Alaskans didn’t have the benefit of centuries of infrastructure and development the rest of us take for granted. And he did everything he could to make sure the rest of his colleagues knew about it — firsthand. Most lawmakers in Washington, when you meet them for the first time, might invite you to join them for dinner somewhere around town. Ted Stevens invited you to Alaska.”
Biden, who served with Stevens in the Senate for 37 years, remembered him with references to Shakespeare and James Joyce. Biden recalled how friendly Stevens was after Biden’s first wife and son died in an auto accident shortly after Biden’s 1972 election.
Biden also couldn’t resist referencing Stevens’s fundraising prowess.
“Sen. Mike Mansfield [the former Majority Leader] once told me, ‘Every man or woman who comes to the United States Senate brings with them a piece of their state’,” Biden said. “Ted Stevens, unlike any other man or woman with whom I ever served, was his state.”
—This post was updated at 10:15 p.m.