Thursday, November 20, 2008

November 20th, 2008
Mary Ann Akers
Washington Post

Convicted Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), fresh from his defeat in a belabored reelection race, gave his last ever Senate floor speech today, bidding farewell to his colleagues and the chamber he has served in since 1968.
Stevens, who was defeated Tuesday on his 85th birthday by Democrat Mark Begich, acknowledged leaving the Senate a wounded man, convicted this month of seven felony conspiracy counts.
"I don't have any rear-view mirror, I look only forward. And I still see the day when I can remove the cloud that currently surrounds me," the often irascible senator said. "My motto has always been 'to hell with politics, just do what's right for Alaska.' And I've tried every day to live up to those words."
Stevens expressed confidence that God has more work for him to do, adding, "I look forward with a glad heart and with confidence in his justice and mercy."
The senator's speech prompted a standing ovation, tears and a stream of farewell speeches from colleagues on both sides of the aisle. The most poignant speech came from legendary fellow earmarker Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), a dear, longtime friend of Stevens - and the longest serving member of the Senate - who turned 91 today.
Byrd, who lately has been using a wheelchair, rose on the floor as best he could to recite a personalized version of a famous Irish poem in honor of his friend: "May all the roads which you have built, Ted, rise up to meet you."
"Bless your heart, Ted," Byrd concluded. "I love you."
"Stand tall," Stevens' good friend and fellow octogenarian Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) said.
Retiring Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), famous, of course, for his airport men's room arrest, told the story of how he came to call Stevens "Uncle Ted." Craig said he was in a cab, on his way to the Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage, when he pulled up to the curb and said out loud, "Oh my, Ted's got an airport. That's neat."
The cab driver, according to Craig, said "Do you know Uncle Ted?" Craig recalled the driver saying, "I know of no other person who has done more for my state than Uncle Ted."
"Ted Stevens now knows why I call him Uncle Ted more often than not. I view that as a much more affectionate term than Senator Stevens," Craig said, adding as he leaned over to Stevens, "I'm gonna miss you, Uncle Ted."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called Stevens "a lion" and subtly acknowledged the Alaskan's uncanny ability to steer mounds and mounds of earmarked federal funding to his state. "He has been an advocate for his state, and that's an understatement," Reid said. "I wish nothing but the best for Ted, Catherine [his wife] and his daughter, who I've known since she was a little girl."
Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), whose reelection contest against comedian Al Franken has now become a closely watched recount, talked about the "love" inside Ted Stevens - "the love that's in his heart." He added, "This nation has been blessed by his service."
Besides his knack for earmarking, Stevens became well known two years ago for his rambling, bizarre "
series of tubes" speech about the Internet, prompting entrepreneurial online DJ's to make this unforgettable techno remix of the speech. Though no one mentioned the episode during today's lengthy farewell fest.
Surprisingly, Stevens didn't wear his signature lucky tie for his final floor speech. But the tie was not forgotten.
"I always got a kick out of it when he wore his Incredible Hulk tie," Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said, adding, "I even liked his crankiness."
Despite his many heated tangles with colleagues who tried to kill his various attempts to steer many millions of dollars to his home state for pet projects such as the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere," Stevens and his colleagues parted ways on a high note.
"I bare no ill will toward any member of this body," Stevens said.
And by all accounts, the feeling was mutual. As Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) explained during her floor tribute to the surly Alaskan, "He's all bark and no bite."

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