SPEECH: Honoring Alaska's Late Senator Ted Stevens

Mr. President, I want to add my voice in recognizing what an important day it is here.

I want to thank the Senators from Alabama and Mississippi and, of course, my good friend Senator Murkowski. Many other Senators--the Senators from California, Iowa--all came to the floor already today to talk about this great American, this great Alaskan.

I try to come to the floor about once a week, and I do a speech that I call the ``Alaskan of the Week'' to talk about an Alaskan who has done great stuff for our State, their community, the country.

But as Senator Murkowski just mentioned in her remarks, I am literally able now to talk about the Alaskan of the Century. That is right. The State of Alaska legislature voted that Ted Stevens was the Alaskan of the Century for reasons we are all talking about today. So I just want to add a few more words about this legendary U.S. Senator, whose portrait we are unveiling today.

Let me say it is more than fitting that we have a portrait of Senator Stevens in the Halls of Congress. It is a small tribute compared to the magnitude of his contributions to our country and to our State. Yet, in so many ways, it is proper and fitting because his spirit certainly remains in this body. It is an example of leadership and public service that you hear and I hear and I know Senator Murkowski hears all the time--how so many of my colleagues still talk about Senator Stevens and what he meant, just like my good friend the Senator from Alabama and so many others.

So I will just give a little more color to this great man's life. He was born in Indiana in 1923. When he was a young boy, the Great Depression hit. Senator Stevens supported his family by selling newspapers on the street, and after the untimely death of his father, he moved to California to live with an aunt and uncle, where he learned to kind of relax and to surf. The surf board that he learned to surf on stayed with him in his office until the end.

As was already mentioned, he was, of course, a part of America's ``greatest generation''--a pilot, 14th Army Air Corps, flying supplies to General Chennault's Fighting Tigers over ``the Hump''--India, China, Burma--very dangerous missions. In 1953, armed with a law degree from Harvard, he made his way to then the Territory of Alaska, where he found, in his words, ``the passion of my career, the Alaskan dream.''

So what was this dream of Ted Stevens? A dream of an Alaska with promises of the 21st century ``springing up from the Arctic,'' he said--an Alaska where our Federal Government works with us, not against us, to achieve our destiny to develop our resources and our economy for the benefit of all Alaskans but also for the benefit of all Americans; an Alaska that lives up to the potential the Congress of the United States saw when it voted to allow Alaska to become the 49th State.

Senator Stevens worked tirelessly for these dreams, and in the last speech he gave on this floor of the U.S. Senate, he recounted some of his successes.

He said: ``Where there was nothing but tundra and forest, today there are now airports, roads, ports, water and sewer systems, hospitals, clinics, communications networks, research labs, and much, much more.''

He went on to say: ``Alaska was not Seward's folly and is no longer an impoverished territory. Alaska is a great State and an essential contributor to our Nation's energy security and national defense.''

In that speech, he said that he was proud to have had a role--a role--in that transformation of Alaska.

Now, I think we are all realizing that in that speech Senator Stevens was being very humble. He didn't have just a role; he played the lead role. Indeed, everywhere any Alaskan goes across the State--as Senator Murkowski has already stated--you see signs of his hard work, his dedication to the Alaskan dream and the critical role he played in transforming our great State.

But I think many of us--and we have already heard it being talked about today--also see his hard work in the friendships and example he set here in the U.S. Senate, friendships not based on party labels but on a commitment to service.

As I mentioned, Members of this body, like Senator Shelby, still approach me on a regular basis, saying what an impact Senator Stevens had.

His friendships were of course legendary: Scoop Jackson; Henry Magnuson; Pat Roberts; John Warner; Senator Shelby; Senator Leahy; Senator Biden, who, as Vice President, traveled to Anchorage to speak at Ted Stevens' funeral; and, of course, as Senator Murkowski mentioned, his famous, enduring friendship with Hawaii's Daniel Inouye.

Senator Murkowski also mentioned his famous motto: ``To hell with politics, just do what's right for Alaska.'' As a matter of fact, I happen to be wearing a very special pair of cufflinks that once belonged to Ted Stevens. That very motto is on these cufflinks. When we are doing important stuff, I will wear these on the floor to remind me--and I think all of us--of what is important not just for our States but for our country.

As was already noted, it wasn't just Alaska that he focused on and achieved so many great results for; it was our Nation. Whether national security, strengthening our military, taking care of our veterans through improved pay and benefits, as Senator Murkowski mentioned, modernizing our fishing industry, our telecommunications industry, being known as the title IX--the ``Father'' of that important legislation, making sure young girls have the opportunity to play sports--if you are an American and you have daughters--I have three--and they are playing sports right now, guess who had so much to do with that. The late great Senator Stevens. He was also in many ways the Senator who cared more about the Olympics and focused on them more than any other Senator.

One other thing about Senator Stevens. No matter how far he rose--and we are hearing about the high levels he attained in the Senate--he never forgot what was most important: serving the people of Alaska. When our constituents traveled thousands of miles to come to DC, he always made time for them. Thousands of Alaskans have notes from him--congratulatory letters, condolence letters, and letters of appreciation.

At his standing-room-only funeral in Anchorage, where I had the honor of serving as an honorary pallbearer, someone asked for a show of hands from the audience--hundreds and hundreds of people--how many had received a letter from Senator Ted Stevens. Nearly every person at that service raised their hand.

Of course, he treated his staff like family. If you worked for Senator Stevens--as my wife, Julie, did--you were always part of that family and you could always expect loyalty from him the rest of your life.

These principles--relentless focus on Alaska, fighting the Feds if you must, working across the aisle for the betterment of Alaska and America, maintaining a strong military and national defense, and deep reverence for our veterans and fellow Alaskans--are a key part of the Stevens legacy.

I am deeply honored to serve in the Senate seat Senator Stevens held for over 40 years and to literally sit at the same desk--right here, this desk--he used in the Senate. More important, I try to live by and serve my constituents according to these principles and the example he set for Alaska and America. But here is something else that is really so remarkable about Ted Stevens. I said I try to serve in that example, but, as you are hearing on the Senate floor, so many other Senators have said that and believe that too. That is really remarkable and shows how much influence he still has in this body to this day.

Like most Senators, I try to get home every weekend. Senator Murkowski and I just have a little farther to go than most--well, actually, a lot farther than most. Our State recently dedicated a wonderful statue of Ted Stevens in the Ted Stevens International Airport. It is life-size. He is sitting on a bench with an inviting smile, cowboy boots on, and his briefcase nearby. It is right in the middle of the airport in Anchorage. I often walk by it, touch it, and quietly say: How are we doing? It gives me inspiration and strength and peace to do that.

With the unveiling of the official portrait of Ted Stevens today and its placement permanently in the halls of the U.S. Senate, I will have another image of this great Alaskan and this great American from which to draw inspiration, but I think so many other Senators will as well.

So congratulations, especially to the family of Ted Stevens: Catherine, his wonderful wife; his children: Ben, Walter, Ted Junior, Susan, Lily, and Beth, who is with us in spirit, as are so many other Alaskans and others who had such deep respect for Senator Stevens; and to his wonderful grandchildren, many of whom Julie and I have known and watched grow up with pride since they were born.