TRAVIS WALTERS News Editor
Senator Ted Stevens, Republican of Alaska, left a D.C. area courtroom Monday convicted on seven counts of ethics violations. According to the New York Times, Senator Stevens maintained his composure and looked at the ceiling while the verdict was read. The 12-member jury found him guilty of violating ethics laws by concealing gifts and services given to him by friends. The maximum sentence for each charge is five years, though he can be sentenced to less than that. He received over $250,000 worth of gifts, a sled dog and a massage chair. The $250,000 came from Bill Allen, the owner of an oil-services construction company in Alaska. The money was largely given in the form of home renovations; taking his home from a simple cabin to a two story home with two decks, a garage, whirlpool, steam room and a large grill.
The Senator maintains that his election, now five days away, will remain unaffected. Before the trial he said, “I am not stepping down. I’m going to run through, and I’m going to win this election.” Other members of Congress convicted of such ethical violations have resigned. In 2006 Bob Ney, Republican Representative from Ohio, gave favors in exchange for gifts from lobbyist Jack Abramoff. A trial sentenced him to 30 months in prison. In 2005 Randy Cunningham, Republican Representative from California, took $2.4 million in bribes to help people win military contracts. He is serving an 8-year sentence in Tucson. Again in 2005, Tom DeLay, Republican Representative from Texas, resigned over an indictment for money laundering and conspiracy in connection with campaign finance violations. One charge was dropped and a trial date has yet to be set for the other.
Stevens can stay in the Senate while he appeals the courts decision. Tradition allows the Senator to go through all appeal measures before the ethics panel puts forward a motion to have the Senator expelled. The only way for a Senator to be removed from office is by two-thirds of the Senate voting him or her out of office. A conviction of a crime does not automatically expel them. In the past, Senators have resigned before being expelled.
Patti Higgens, Chairman of the Alaska Democratic Party called for Stevens to immediately resign saying, “He knew what he was doing was wrong, but he did it anyway and lied to Alaskans about it. Alaskans deserve better from their public officials. It’s time for us to elect an ethical and honest Senator who will move this state forward.”
If Stevens were to resign it would fall upon Alaskan governor Sarah Palin to call a special election to fill his seat. Palin, now running for the Vice Presidency, said, “I will carefully monitor this situation and take any appropriate action as needed. In the meantime, I ask the people of Alaska to join me in respecting the workings of our judicial system.” A central theme to Palin’s candidacy is her tough handling of corruption and her own party’s complicity in it. However, she has not called for Stevens to resign. She said this highlighted the corrupting influence of big oil in Alaska.
Before the 2006 midterm elections Stevens was President pro tempore of the Senate, placing him third in line to the Presidency. I think Stevens should resign given the amount of calculated time and effort he took to conceal all this from the public, and given the amount of time, effort and money the Justice Department spent on prosecuting the case. The Senator will turn 85 this year and because of this case, his famously grandiose pork projects and his failure to understand the Internet, his re-election will be very close. He could give Alaskans and all Americans the greatest gift of all – the gift of not watching another U.S. politician slowly unwind before our eyes, mired in their own conceit.