We might not think very highly about Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young; however, many Alaska residents have looked upon both men as “saviors.” Residents are also left wondering if Stevens may be on his way out and if so, what kind of impact this will have on their state. Has the Stevens scandal changed things for them?
In Alaska, however, Stevens and Young are widely seen as saviors. When Stevens came to the Senate in 1968, Alaska was a backwater populated, in part, by social dropouts living Jack London fantasies. Stevens helped modernize the state, bringing electricity, health care and even subsidized air service to the state’s rural inhabitants, who revere him. Essential to this transformation was the discovery of vast oil reserves. Oil taxes generate nearly 90 percent of the state’s revenue. (There’s no state income tax.) An oil-wealth savings account, the Alaska Permanent Fund, is worth $40 billion, and this year will generate a dividend of about $1,575 to every man, woman and child in the state…
The scandal has Alaskans—who long ago turned a blind eye to their leaders’ excesses—wondering if an era of big-talking, pork-slinging pols has come to an end. The oil culture is changing: though prices are at a record high, production is dropping. Even a whiff of wrongdoing is now enough to provoke scrutiny. Alaskans recently elected Gov. Sarah Palin, a young reformer with a squeaky-clean reputation. At 43, she speaks for a new generation of Alaskans who were baffled when Uncle Ted referred to the Internet as a “series of tubes.” Still, it was Stevens who helped bring Alaska into the modern age, and courted his constituents over the years with wedding gifts, letters of recommendation—and sometimes just a friendly pat on the back and a fishing tale. Now they are left to ponder a future not only without the gushing pump, but without the man who primed it.
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