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Petersburg Pilot - Stevens Addresses Election, Legal Distractions

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Petersburg Pilot - Stevens Addresses Election, Legal Distractions

Carole M. Triem

Long-time Alaska senator Ted Stevens is running for re-election for the seventh time. This year marks the senator's 40th year in the Senate and he is currently the longest-serving Republican member of Congress. He spoke recently about his legal troubles and his campaign for re-election.

In July, Senator Stevens was indicted by a grand jury on seven counts of giving false statements on senate financial disclosure forms. Stevens says his campaign has been affected by his indictment and upcoming trial. "It's been affected in the sense that it takes time to deal with the court case. It's been affected overall," he said.

The senator continues to assert his innocence and believes he will be cleared of any wrongdoing. "I have a lot of faith. I think, when it comes right down to it, if you have faith, the outcome is going to be right," he stated. Stevens said he believes he still can win the election. "I know what I have to do: I have to win the election. I have to have this case decided in my favor. That's God's will. I believe I will have that."

One of his key selling points for re-election is his seniority in the senate. He cites the know-how and experience that he and his staff have accumulated as benefits that he can bring to Alaskans. "If you have some problem you need help with from Washington, who would you call?" he asked. "You'd call those who've been around and who have a staff that's really been trained and knows where answers can be found. Or would you like to call a brand-new office where people are still trying to find the way to the bathroom?"

However, some have said that the senator has outstayed his welcome in Washington. Former Alaska governor Wally Hickel, who first appointed Stevens to the Senate in 1968, told Bloomberg news, "He has served Alaska for 40 years, but his time is over."

In response, Stevens was reluctant to address criticism from Hickel. "I have known Wally for a long time and Wally has contributed to my campaign and either someone just misunderstood him or he was having a bad day."

In the interview Stevens also addressed the fishing industry and the problems fishermen are having with the high price of fuel. Senator Stevens co-sponsored the Fisheries Fuel Tax Relief Act of 2008 with Senator Lisa Murkowski. He is, however, unsure of the bill's future. "I think that's something we'll have to carry over to next year unless we find a bill that's on the general subject and we're able to add to it," he commented. He explained that the bill would likely get tacked on to a larger bill to increase its chances of passing. "We're going to do our best to add it on to another bill that is going to pass, but right now I'd say a stand-alone approach to that bill would be very difficult."

When asked about the state of the timber industry in Southeast Alaska, Stevens blamed problems on the environmentalists and conservationists who bring litigation against the timber industry. "The basic thing is to find some way to stop the people who have been opposing it for so long," he said. "They're just professional people who go out and raise money to oppose issues in this state. These people, the friends of the extreme environmental people that support the Democrats, have been opposing Alaska since the 1970s," opined the senator.

Senator Stevens believes the state legislature is off to a good start with the $1,200 resource rebate it approved in special session. "The dividend is up and this adds $1,200 to it. If you have a family of four you're going to get four times the amount and that's going to be a good assistance," he said.

He urges Alaskans to use their dividends and extra resource rebate money wisely. "It should be used to meet the problems of energy: the problems of buying fuel oil and the problems of buying gasoline. I do think that we have to develop discipline on how we use our permanent fund and that rebate this year."

Asked about long-term solutions to the energy crisis, the senator spoke only about oil as it applies to Alaska. His plan is to sell Alaska's oil at a lower price in return for a lower price at the pump. "I think we need some way to sell our royalty oil where we get a little less for it when it's sold to the purchasers, but those purchasers agree that in Alaska, [consumers] of oil and gas would pay less," explained Stevens.

With the trial looming and the upcoming wedding of his daughter, Stevens says he will be too busy to visit Southeast in the near future.

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