By RICHARD MAUER
Anchorage Daily News
January 10, 2006
"Why would I take personal responsibility for that?" he told reporters at a 70-minute news conference Monday, rejecting any share of the blame for the relentless attacks. His measures, he said, were "the target for that extreme taxpayer's union on the one hand and the environmentalists on the other."
The last two months were particularly rough for Stevens in Washington. After threatening to resign if the huge bridge projects across Knik Arm and in Ketchikan were stripped from the federal budget to pay for hurricane relief in Louisiana, he was forced to accept the removal of the bridge earmarks in the federal transportation bill, though the money - more than $450 million - remained.
An even larger issue for Stevens went down in flames in December. For a generation, Stevens has been trying to open the 1.5-million-acre coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. A year ago, he said the effort had left him depressed.
But with a strong Republican majority in the House and Senate, and President Bush in the White House, Stevens has said that this year would be the best opportunity ever to see the measure through.
It didn't turn out that way. A coalition of moderate House Republicans removed the drilling provision from a budget bill. At the last minute before Congress went home for the holidays, Stevens tried to attach the issue to a defense appropriations measure. Supporters argued that anyone voting against drilling would be voting against American troops.
The tactic backfired. Criticism turned against Stevens for cluttering a must-pass bill with controversial and unrelated Alaska legislation.
As the Arctic drilling went down to defeat, Stevens said "goodbye" to the Senate, a remark interpreted by some as a farewell. At the press conference, Stevens said that interpretation was wrong.
"I'm here, I'm going to stay and get ANWR, there's no question about that. It's going to happen."
But Stevens said when he returns to Washington, he will no longer consider some Democrats his friends. The final refuge debate became too personal, he said.
"When I first went there, you would never hear a senator speak about another senator the way they were speaking about me that night," he said. "There are people I've considered to be personal friends without regards to politics, and they were turning into vipers as far as I was concerned. . . . The extent of the venom there on the floor, that would never have happened in the days gone by."
Stevens said he has "written off" those friends.
"I'm not traveling with them anymore, and I'm not going to play tennis or swim or do various things with them."
While Stevens wouldn't identify the senators he felt "betrayed" him, he specifically said Robert Byrd, the 88-year-old Democrat from West Virginia, wasn't one of them, though Byrd pointedly attacked Stevens' tactics during the refuge debate.
"Sen. Byrd has been a friend for a long time. It's a little tough to take what he said at the last minute, I told him that." Stevens paused, then added, "His age and his situation is a very difficult one."
Stevens, 82, acknowledged that one Democratic senator, Maria Cantwell of Washington, may have gotten a boost among her voters by opposing him.
Widely seen as a vulnerable first-term senator, Cantwell led the Senate effort against refuge drilling, then fought a measure by Stevens to allow more Alaska oil to be shipped through Puget Sound. A Seattle Times columnist wrote last week that Cantwell should send "Alaska's bullyish Sen. Ted Stevens" a smoked salmon for giving her the opportunity to achieve a "stunning victory."
"I think she's using me sort of as a person to bounce things off," Stevens said.
Publish A Letter on SitNews Read Letters/Opinions
Submit A Letter to the Editor