Ted Stevens’ long Senate career was overshadowed, at the end, by his corruption trial and by the fact that in recent years, he has been known more as a pork-master than anything else. But Rudy Boschwitz, who served in the Senate with Stevens and knew him well, provides a more balanced look at a man of unusual achievements:
During his 40 years in the Senate, Ted Stevens had a most significant role in overseeing what cumulatively must have amounted to trillions of defense dollars. He developed an in-depth of knowledge of the most complicated of weaponry systems. He saw to it that the United States had the world’s most technologically advanced military. Ronald Reagan noted that none of the wars that occurred in his lifetime were the result of America being too strong. Ted’s role was critical to maintaining American strength over four decades, including the difficult post-Vietnam era. That’s why Ted Stevens is among my heroes.
When I arrived in the Senate after the 1978 elections, hundreds of thousands of service people (including their dependents) qualified for food stamps. I came to the Senate as a hawk. Among my earliest memories are those of my dad railing against the democracies for not arming against Hitler. He helped form my pro-defense views. Ted’s leadership was vital in implementing those views. He certainly wasn’t alone. There was broad support on both sides of the aisle, particularly during the time of Sen. Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson.
Ted’s crankiness was only part of his personality. He was smart – very smart – plus very persistent and very tough. He was in a position to make things happen, and he did so. That’s why Ted was among my heroes.
He narrowly lost his Senate seat after a conviction weeks before the 2008 election. He maintained his innocence, and President Obama’s Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. effectively overturned Ted’s conviction because of prosecutorial abuse. I always think of this when I hear Mr. Holder being subjected to criticism from our side of the aisle.
My scheduler in the Senate, Janet Kelly, was from the little town of Springfield, Minn., (just west of the larger town of Sleepy Eye). She married Ted Stevens’ chief of staff, Bill Phillips. Together with Ted, Bill was lost in that Alaskan crash on Monday. Bill and Janet had four sons, just as my wife, Ellen, and I do. We were all very close. Their youngest son, Will, miraculously survived the crash. Bill Phillips was not as lucky. And so a man of enormous talent who also contributed much was lost. It’s truly sad beyond words.
I lost not one, but two heroes this week. They worked to make this country better, stronger and safer.
Not everyone remembers Rudy’s career in public service these days, but that remembrance is typical of the good will that he brings to every situation.