Denver – Democrats here are preparing to anoint Barack Obama as their nominee. Despite his long record of alliances with Chicago’s political machine and his use of government positions to help his friends and donors — and possibly himself — they are still fooling themselves with the idea that he stands for “hope,” “change,” and a “new politics.”
But on Tuesday, two time zones to the west of here, Republican voters did not even have the option of fooling themselves. They knew exactly what they were doing, and they did it anyway. Their senator had recently been indicted on seven federal charges, and they re-nominated him. He won an embarrassing 63 percent majority in a crowded field in last night’s primary election.
Federal prosecutors accuse seven-term senator Ted Stevens (R., Alaska) of taking gifts from parties interested in legislation and concealing them on his financial disclosure forms for seven years in a row. But a large majority of voters in Alaska’s Republican primary just did not care. They love pork — something Stevens has proven expert in providing — and evidently they don’t mind self-dealing in their politics.
Stevens was indicted in July in connection with various gifts, including $250,000 in free home renovations, from Bill Allen, CEO of the now-defunct oil services firm VECO. Allen pleaded guilty last spring to spending more than $400,000 bribing Alaska state legislators.
Stevens’s indictment livened up his Senate primary in late July, but evidently not enough for Alaska Republicans to care.
One new wrinkle since then is the revelation that the Senator involved Vice President Dick Cheney in an issue that was dear to VECO’s heart — the route of a controversial natural-gas pipeline. The choice of whether the pipeline would run through Alaska or through Canada was a huge issue in the state. Whatever the merits of each route, Allen and VECO were willing to do just about anything to get the Canadian route.
As Newsweek reported on Saturday, Stevens was taped by law enforcement discussing the pipeline route with Allen on June 25, 2006. “I’m gonna try to see if I can get some bigwigs from back here and say, ‘Look . . . you gotta get this done,’ ” Stevens said. He wasn’t kidding, either, because two days later he delivered one of the biggest wigs of all. Cheney sent a letter to Alaska’s state legislature, requesting that they act quickly and begin building the pipeline through Canada to connect with pipelines in the lower 48 states. Even if the request is perfectly consistent with administration policy, it is another clear sign of Stevens’s influence. He had the Vice President’s ear, a connection he was prepared to use if it meant helping his alleged benefactors.
VECO’s corruption (and existence) ended with a bang, as company executives, legislators, and the former governor’s chief of staff were convicted of crimes. But Alaska’s corruption continues.
Stevens may well be toast in a general election. I spoke to three Republican sources, each of whom speculated, without prompting, that Stevens may step aside rather than run for re-election while facing trial. This would allow the state party to choose a new nominee, probably someone who will not rock the boat. Stevens would likely play a role in choosing his successor under such a scenario. Whoever it is, he will have a formidable opponent in Anchorage’s Democratic mayor, Mark Begich.
There was another Republican primary last night, whose ending might turn out to be happier. U.S. Rep. Don Young (R.), another VECO-tied legislator under federal investigation, is best known in Washington for naming a bridge after himself and for other prolific pork practices. He once berated a fellow member of Congress on the House floor — “my money,” he shouted, defending his earmark from elimination. Young may not survive the primary challenge mounted against him by Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell, one of Alaska’s new breed of conservative reformers. At press time, Parnell leads by 367 votes, with 70 percent of precincts counted. It will be ten days before some 9,000 absentee ballots are counted.
Young may lose, but it is incredible that it could have ever been so close. Reform appears to be pulling back from its high tide in Alaska, two years after Republican voters installed Gov. Sarah Palin (R.), throwing out an incumbent plagued with ethical problems.
Barack Obama is a smooth-talker who has made a career by accommodating himself to corrupt political systems, but at least his supporters have excuses for the false hopes they place in him. They have their discontent with the current situation, their own naivete, the heightened emotions he inspires, and the complete failure of the news media to tell Obama’s story as it really is.
Alaskans, on the other hand, apparently approach crooked incumbent politicians with full knowledge and vote for them anyway. It is much the same way Stevens approached the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. His words, recorded in David Schippers’s 2000 book Sellout, were: “I don’t care if you proved he raped a woman and then stood up and shot her dead — you are not going to get sixty-seven votes.”
Do all Republicans in Alaska think this way? At least 63 percent of them appear to.
– David Freddoso is a staff reporter for National Review Online and author of The Case Against Barack Obama..