As controversy swirls around Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens's financial conduct, state politics may enter a new era.
Jet into Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, take a break in the Stevens Family Youth Center, or flush a toilet in a remote Native village on the tundra, and you benefit from the clout of Alaska's iconic senator. During nearly four decades in the US Congress, Senator Stevens has been so instrumental in Alaska's development that he's been lionized as "Uncle Ted," "Senator for Life," and "Alaskan of the Century."
So when federal agents converged July 30 on his house in the woodsy ski town of Girdwood, Alaska, to collect evidence against him, it was a humiliating rebuke to business as usual.
The raid on Stevens's home – apparently a search for evidence of improper freebies in a remodeling job overseen by an oil-services executive – was the latest glimpse into a vast corruption investigation. It's focusing on the ties between those who extract Alaska's rich natural resources and the politicians who control the purse strings.
The scandal touches all bases of Alaskan politics and economics: oil, fisheries, and the federal money that has always subsidized the development of this sprawling state. While misdeeds on the frontier are nothing new, the scope of the current mess is unprecedented, says one historian. "I don't think we've seen anything like this, certainly, since statehood," said Steve Haycox, a University of Alaska Anchorage history professor.
Revelations began a year ago, when federal agents swarmed legislative offices in Anchorage, Juneau, and elsewhere. Three former state lawmakers have been indicted for soliciting and taking bribes in exchange for industry-friendly votes on a controversial oil-tax overhaul. A fourth has been convicted of bribery and corruption.