A fuller picture of Ted Stevens

A FULLER PICTURE OF TED STEVENS…. I wasn’t altogether sure what to say about the death of former Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) yesterday, which is why I ended up not doing a post. Obviously, the plane crash was a terrible accident, and my heart goes out to Stevens’ family and friends, as well as those close to the crash’s other victims.

That said, as much as Stevens was a giant for the state of Alaska, his tenure in the Senate for four decades was not necessarily a positive one. With his passing, it’s perhaps worth pausing to get a better, more complete sense of Stevens’ legacy.

With that in mind, I’m flagging a couple of items from the Monthly‘s archives. The first is this 2007 piece from Charlie Homans, explaining how Stevens became both an enabler and a prisoner of an insatiable Alaskan addiction to federal largess, which was a consequence of the state’s decision to abolish both income and sales taxes. With fewer resources available locally, Stevens relied on pork and earmarks to provide for Alaska’s needs.

The second is this 2005 piece from Ben Wallace-Wells, which highlights Stevens’ work on a loophole in federal procurement law that allowed Native Alaskan tribal corporations to win no-bid federal contracts. Stevens’ work ultimately created well-paying jobs, not for Native Alaskans, but for whites in Fairbanks and Northern Virginia and opportunities for big defense firms partnering with these corporations to get around competitive bidding statutes, which in turn raised the cost of federal contracts.

The stories aren’t especially flattering, but as Stevens’ legacy becomes the focus of additional attention, it’s worth noting how the senator tried to do right by his constituents, and in the process, wound up creating Alaska’s damaging dependence on federal spending that has undermined the spirit of “independence” that Alaskans still think their state exemplifies.