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Winter 2000

Mr. Stevens Goes to Washington

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Stevens became steadfast friends with C.W. Snedden, publisher of the local newspaper, who helped get Stevens a job in the Interior Department in Washington, D.C., just as Alaska statehood was grabbing the interest of the Eisenhower administration.

Later, Stevens returned to Alaska and entered politics. In December 1968, Gov. Wally Hickel appointed him to fill out the term of Sen. Bob Bartlett, who died suddenly. Hickel was in Washington at the time, awaiting President-elect Richard Nixon's announcement of a series of cabinet nominations, including Hickel's own nomination to Secretary of the Interior.

"Nixon said, 'Wally, what are you going to do?' " Hickel recalled in a 1995 interview. Hickel rattled off the names of a few possibilities for replacing Bartlett. Last on the list was Stevens, whom Nixon knew.

"The president looked at me and asked, 'Wally, do you have the courage to appoint Ted?' And I said, 'I want to do what is right.' Ted Stevens was a survivor, in my opinion."

Stevens has been in the Senate ever since. His hand has shaped every major bill affecting his state, including the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, the law authorizing the trans-Alaska oil pipeline and the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. This is not to say that Stevens is totally Alaskacentric. He is a strong voice on behalf of federal spending for health care and is responsible for large increases in the research budgets of the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control. Stevens is an important supporter of amateur sports and a leading proponent of gender equity in collegiate athletics under Title IX. And, he is a major player in telecommunications legislation, sponsoring the commercialization of bandwidth, or frequencies, that has helped to spawn the rapid growth of everything from cell phones to satellite television.

In addition to chairing Senate Appropriations, Stevens also is chair of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, a platform from which he has advocated for increased spending on military readiness; improvements in pay, benefits and housing for military personnel; and for an Alaska-based National Missile Defense System.

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