Alaska is well known as a land of earthquakes, from calamitous ones to minor temblors. Somewhere along that scale of magnitude fall the words of Sen. Ted Stevens, who speculated aloud on Friday that his end in the Senate may be drawing near.
Sen. Stevens, the most senior Republican senator, suggested that if the latest effort to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling does not produce the result he and the majority of Alaskans desire, he may call it a day and not seek re-election in 2008 to the seat has held since 1968. The 81-year-old senator, known for his physical durability and high energy level, offered that he has been wearying of the ANWR fight and is discouraged by other events in the Senate.
Whether Sen. Stevens is seriously considering retirement isn't clear, however. The senator, a savvy leader on Capitol Hill for so many years now, could just as well have been demonstrating some political acumen by suggesting a retirement in hopes of engendering a little fondness from colleagues who might be wavering in their support of opening ANWR. You never know with the senator.
For Alaskans, however, reading and hearing about the possibility that ''Uncle Ted'' will retire is one step further from the speculation that has been under way, on and off, for the past couple of years. Most of the speculation hasn't been about a successor, however; rather, it's been about what Alaska will do without all the money that Sen. Stevens brings to his home state annually.
Year after year, Sen. Stevens provides for Alaska in ways that other senators can only dream of doing for their states. Alaska already has one new senator in Lisa Murkowski. Having a second young senator, should Sen. Stevens retire, will drop Alaska's seniority to a level not seen in a generation and to a level that will be hard pressed to produce the results of recent years.
And when the amount of money that comes to Alaska in the form of special grants and congressional earmarks falls, as it surely will upon the conclusion of Sen. Stevens' lustrous career, Alaskans will find themselves needing to decide how, or whether, to fill the gap.
Perhaps revenue from ANWR and the natural gas pipeline will arrive in sufficient quantity to help cover both the state's own fiscal shortfalls and the loss of federal money before Sen. Stevens retires. But if it doesn't ... .
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,
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