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Winter 2000

Mr. Stevens Goes to Washington

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Hundreds of millions of dollars are to install sanitation and safe drinking-water systems in rural, mostly native, villages, where "honey buckets" are standard. Last year Stevens created a five-year, $30-million program - the most aggressive in the nation - to attack fetal alcohol syndrome in his state, which has the highest alcoholism rates in the country. There is disaster aid to fishermen who have struggled because chaotic weather patterns have reduced harvests.

Money is going to the state railroad, harbors, roads, ferries and airports. And it is going into hundreds of social-service and health programs, reflecting the senator's deeply held belief that the state's worst enemy is the cycle of despair and dependency many rural residents endure daily.

"My mission is to try to make Congress understand that the promise of statehood is that we should have the ability to establish a workable private-enterprise economy in areas of Alaska that want it. And that's basically 90 percent of the state," he says.

Programs also are sprouting up throughout the University of Alaska system because of Stevens. A decade ago, Stevens sent $25 million to the university's Fairbanks campus in a controversial move to establish it as a supercomputing center. This year, virtually without any attention on Capitol Hill, he is sending even more to upgrade those computers because the center's international ranking had slipped.

One of his more lasting creations, however, may be the Denali Commission. Patterned after the Appalachia Regional Commission, the state-federal panel was created and funded during Stevens' first year as committee chairman in an effort to find a more efficient way to bring about coordinated infrastructure improvements in rural Alaska.

The commission's budget next year will be nearly $50 million - virtually double this year's. There has never been a hearing in Congress about the need for the commission. This year, for the first time in its own budget submission to Congress, the White House included a line item for the panel, quietly making it a permanent fixture of the government's annual spending blueprint.

"Ted Stevens brings home money for transportation and things like that, but he also uses money to put Alaska ahead on things like fetal alcohol syndrome, telecommunications and the Denali Commission - all wonderful programs. The money is a good reflection of Stevens' values and character," says Alaska's Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles.

For his ceaseless efforts on behalf of the state, Stevens in March was named Alaskan of the Century.

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