Nevertheless, Republican presidential candidate John McCain called Stevens to resign, saying the longest-serving GOP senator “has broken his trust with the people.”
McCain’s running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, at first did not call for Stevens to quit, instead stating Monday that she was “confident Sen. Stevens will do what’s right for the people of Alaska.”
Later Tuesday, the campaign later released a statement attributed to Palin saying “Alaskans are grateful for his decades of public service but the time has come for him to step aside. Even if elected on Tuesday, Senator Stevens should step aside to allow a special election to give Alaskans a real choice of who will serve them in Congress.”
Many questions remain unanswered about Stevens’ political and personal futures after a jury in Washington, D.C., found him guilty on seven counts of trying to hide more than $250,000 in free home renovations and other gifts from a wealthy oil contractor.
Stevens, 84, asked his Senate colleagues as well as Alaska’s voters to stand by him as he appeals the convictions.
“I am innocent,” he said in a statement released through his Senate and campaign offices. “This verdict is the result of the unconscionable manner in which the Justice Department lawyers conducted this trial. I ask that Alaskans and my Senate colleagues stand with me as I pursue my rights. I remain a candidate for the United States Senate. “
Should Stevens win “and insists on keeping his seat, his fate will be in the hands of his Senate colleagues,” the New York Times reported. “A senator can be expelled only by a two-thirds vote of the entire Senate, so a conviction does not automatically cost a lawmaker his seat. Since 1789, only 15 senators have been expelled, most for supporting the Confederacy during the Civil War, the Senate Web site states.”
But what’s even more unclear is what would happen if Stevens wins re-election.
“If Stevens were to resign from his seat or be expelled, how would a replacement be chosen? Nobody can say for sure,” the Anchorage Daily News wrote, saying that the state’s law on senatorial succession was modified twice in 2004, “once by the Legislature, and once by ballot initiative. Both laws call for a special election within 60 to 90 days of the vacancy. But they disagree on whether the governor appoints an interim senator in the meantime.”
Stevens has been a stalwart of Alaskan politics since even before it became a state, but he faces a tough re-election battle next week as a convicted felon against Democratic Mayor Mark Begich of Anchorage. He could be sentenced to as many as 35 years in prison, but he was not expected to receive a harsh sentence.
In a guarded statement released after the conviction, Begich said: “This past year has been a difficult time for Alaskans, but our people are strong and resilient and I believe that we will be able to move forward together to address the critical challenges that face Alaska.”
Nevada Sen. John Ensign, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, all but conceded Stevens’ Senate seat to the Democrats, who hope to win a filibuster-proof majority of at least 60 votes in the Senate.
“Ted Stevens served his constituents for over 40 years, and I am disappointed to see his career end in disgrace,” Ensign told the Associated Press. “Senator Stevens had his day in court, and the jury found he violated the public’s trust. As a result, he is properly being held accountable.”
But Stevens remains a powerful force in Alaska.
“It’s very possible that (Stevens) is going to win the election,” Carl Shepro, a professor of political science at the University of Alaska in Anchorage, told the AP.
While Begich has run a strong campaign, “Stevens has been blanketing the airwaves too,” Shepro said. “Even though he’s not here, he’s had a lot of air time.”
Even though Stevens is able to run for re-election, it’s unclear whether he will be allowed to vote for himself due to his felony conviction. Gail Fenumiai, director of the Alaska Division of Elections, told the ADN that her office is researching whether the senator would be allowed to vote in next Tuesday’s election.