Marine Steward or Felon?
Perhaps no legislator has meant more to the nation's fishing and seafood industries in the past four decades than Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens. But on Monday, a federal jury convicted Alaska's political patriarch on all seven felony counts of failing to disclose more than $250,000 in gifts, tarnishing his reputation and severely impairing his re-election bid.
Next Tuesday, Alaskans will determine whether Stevens' 40-year political career, which includes securing $3.4 billion in federal earmarks for Alaska since 1995 alone, outweighs the freebies he received from oil contractor Bill Allen, oil services company VECO Corp. and others.
Stevens' contribution to marine stewardship is unmatched in Congress. In 1976, Stevens and Washington Sen. Warren Magnuson crafted the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act, establishing a regulatory framework for the nation's fisheries and creating an exclusive economic zone that prohibits foreign vessels from fishing within 200 miles of the U.S. coastline. Now called the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the legislation was reauthorized last year, setting a deadline to end overfishing by 2011.
The longest-tenured Republican in the Senate has also fought to adequately fund the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the agency that manages the nation's fisheries and oversees marine research. Thanks in part to Stevens, the Senate's fiscal 2009 spending bill included $380 million more for NOAA than the Bush administration proposed.
This year, strengthening the management of Arctic Ocean fisheries and the effort to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing worldwide are among Stevens' causes.
Now Stevens' political fate, and the fishing and seafood industries' representation on Capitol Hill, hangs by a thread. However, Stevens surged in the polls after his July indictment and, in the most recent polls from earlier this month, was locked in a dead heat with his Democratic opponent, Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, the Anchorage Daily News pointed out yesterday.
Don't count the 84-year-old senator out just yet.