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Alaska Senator Ted Stevens is no fool. He asked for an early trial on his federal corruption changes to create a fall back position, if convicted, like the one he has in play right now. He has a better hand than most people realize.
The vote on his seat is next Tuesday and nobody in Alaska or outside knows if he will win or lose. His “friends” in the national party and the Republican national candidates, including the Alaska governor, want him to resign. But he knows, and they know, he might win. Alaskans won’t forget the billions he has brought into the state. Losing Ted and his seniority and his ability to shovel federal dollars into the trough for Alaska will be like a six-month breakdown in the transAlaska pipeline, maybe worse. Still other Alaskans, especially newcomers, are embarrassed by the outside media’s focus on corruption in Alaska, Sarah Palin’s incompetence, and late night jokes about bridges to nowhere.
Democratic candidate Mark Begich is no shoo-in. Outsiders don’t know about his own involvement with real estate kingpins and problems with public employees. Palin wants Stevens out so that she can appoint someone else — just maybe Sarah Palin — to run in a special election. This maneuver has its own complications.
Thanks to 2004 voter initiative, prompted by Senator-then-Governor Murkowski’s appointment of his own daughter to fill the spot he left vacant, Palin may not be legally capable of an interim appointment. That also works in Steven’s favor. It would mean that an interim appointment would exist under the legal cloud of a court challenge until a special election. Or Alaska might have no sitting Senator in Steven’s spot, until a special election.
If pundits are right, Palin can now command some attention from Republicans higher –ups in the party, even in the White House itself, to get what she wants. They may want her to run in a special election in Alaska or as Stevens’ quick replacement. Her popularity has fallen from the high sixty percents to the lower sixty percent, according to a poll funded by the IBEW but is still up there. She could feed on an Alaska backlash against the bad national press, as could Stevens. Bottom line- she may want a White House pardon for Stevens as much as Stevens’ even though there is no love lost between these two politicians. Stevens holds key to the next step in her political career.
So here’s the deal Ted can demand. He resigns in exchange for the promise of a full Presidential pardon along with no federal prosecutions of his son, Ben, for a smelly fishery buy-in, tied to federal legislation dad secured, of his former staffer ,Trevor McCabe, for a suspect Seward land sale to the Alaska Sealife Center, paid for with a federal appropriation Stevens directed at the non-profit to buy the land) or, if Stevens has the balls, anyone else who drew on Stevens’ influence to get special favors from the Big Guy while he was under FBI scrutiny. He might also ask for a special room in the new federal archive in Anchorage for his public papers. His hand is that good and his balls are that big.
Stevens knows he needs to work fast if he thinks he may lose the election next Tuesday. If he thinks he will win, he has until Inauguration Day.
My guess is negotiations are happening right now. Senator Ted Stevens is wheeling and dealing, Sarah Palin is dialing in, and President George Bush is paying attention.
STEVE CONN lived in Alaska from 1972 until 2007. He is a retired professor, University of Alaska. His e mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.