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Ex-senator Stevens among those killed in Alaskan crash

O'Keefe, teenage son survive crash with broken bones, injuries

August 10, 2010
(Page 2 of 2)

"Alaska has lost one of its greatest statesmen and a true pioneer of our state with the passing of Senator Ted Stevens," said Murkowski's counterpart, Mark Begich, who defeated Stevens in 2008 and who lost his politician father in a plane crash in 1972.

A White House spokesman said President Barack Obama called Stevens' widow, Catherine, on Tuesday afternoon to express his condolences.

"A decorated World War II veteran, Sen. Ted Stevens devoted his career to serving the people of Alaska and fighting for our men and women in uniform," Obama said in prepared remarks.

Stevens was appointed in December 1968 and became the longest-serving Republican in Senate history. (The late Strom Thurmond was in the Senate longer than Stevens, but he spent a decade there as a Democrat before switching to the GOP.)

"He always kept his word to me and to other senators. In moments of legislative battle, he would come onto the floor wearing his Hulk tie, and he would growl and act like a bulldog. But then he would spot friends on the floor and give a wink and a grin," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

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The wiry octogenarian was a legend in his home state, where he was known as "Uncle Ted." Though he was built like a birch sapling, he liked to encourage comparisons with the Incredible Hulk -- an analogy that seemed appropriate for his outsized place in Alaska history.

He was named Alaskan of the Century in 1999 for having the greatest impact on the state in 100 years. He brought in "Stevens money" that literally helped keep the remote state solvent. The Anchorage airport is also named in his honor.

"He did his job and he did it well," said Royce Metz, a bookstore worker. "That's all I want to know about a politician: Do your job."

But one of his projects -- infamously known as the "Bridge to Nowhere" -- became a symbol of pork-barrel spending in Congress and a target of taxpayer groups who challenged an appropriation for hundreds of millions of dollars for bridge construction in Ketchikan.

Stevens' standing in Alaska was toppled by corruption allegations and a federal trial in 2008. He was convicted of all seven counts -- and narrowly lost to Begich in the election the following week. But five months later, Attorney General Eric Holder dropped the indictment and declined to proceed with a new trial because of prosecutorial misconduct.

Stevens never discussed the events publicly.

The Stevens crash is the latest in a long line of aviation accidents to claim political figures over the years in the U.S., including Pennsylvania Sen. John Heinz in 1991, South Dakota Gov. George Mickelson in 1993, Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan in 2000 and Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone in 2002.

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