Senator Murkowski's tribute to Senator Stevens
PREPARED REMARKS OF SENATOR LISA MURKOWSKI
IN TRIBUTE TO SENATOR TED STEVENS
UNITED STATES SENATE
NOVEMBER 20, 2008
Mr. President, I would like to speak this morning from the perspective of an Alaskan. Ted Stevens has been Alaska in this Senate for four decades now. Many Senators earn their place in history during the course of their service in the Senate. By the time Ted came to the Senate, in 1968, he had already earned his place in Alaskan history. As an Interior Department attorney in the late 1950s, Ted was the Eisenhower administration’s point man on Alaska’s statehood. Well, this year our State is celebrating its 50th anniversary of statehood. If it had not been for the persistence of Ted Stevens at that time our statehood anniversary date may have been celebrated years off. It was that persistence that Ted brought to the United States Senate.
Historians will record that the life of Ted Stevens and the history of post-statehood Alaska are interwoven. But I guess there is an easier way to express that.
When I think of the good things – the positive things - that have come to Alaska in the past fifty years, I see the face… I see the hands of Ted Stevens in so many of them.
Small things like a washteria in Golovin, population 67, funded by the Denali Commission that Ted created. Ted Stevens knows that in Alaska, small places still matter. When you don’t have a water and sewer system and a place for sanitation – providing those things is really a big deal.
There are also the big things – the big projects that Senator Stevens helped to create. Whether it’s our 800 mile Trans Alaska Pipeline, the settlement of Alaska Native land claims, the fact that we have F-22s at Elmendorf Air Force Base and the compromise that allowed Eielson Air Force Base to remain a vibrant and strategic center for our military.
And then the big things that are yet to come as we advance a pipeline to carry natural gas from Alaska to the Lower 48. We will have a new VA Outpatient Clinic in Anchorage that Ted has been responsible for.
When Alaskans reflect on some of the difficult debates – the issues that Congress has dealt with over the years as they relate to Alaska -- primarily these are debates where the Nation has sought to tell Alaskans what we should be doing to manage our lands, to develop our economies, to live our lives. Every time there has been an argument, a debate, a victory, it’s been the forceful voice of Ted Stevens defending the right of Alaskans that prevails.
And we all know when he would come to the floor wearing his Incredible Hulk tie, we knew he was here fighting the battles for Alaska that day and look out. Whether it was our timber issues, or the battle over ANWR, or our fisheries, he was there working, fighting, compromising and negotiating these battles for the State of Alaska.
There are some other things you might not know about Senator Stevens and what drives him – his care, his passion and his support for world-class fishing out on the Kenai River, his support for public broadcasting which earned him two national awards, and his undying commitment for the Olympic movement and amateur athletics.
Someone mentioned that it would take a long time to enumerate the accomplishments of Ted Stevens. I might suggest that in order to do that, it would take as long as it took Mr. Reid to read his book about Searchlight on the floor when I was in the Presiding Officer’s chair. We don’t have time to do that this morning and that is not my purpose today.
I’d like to refer to Ted’s accomplishments in two areas to illustrate a point that I want to make about Ted’s character and his personal commitment to public service. And these are in the areas of what he has done to improve the lives of Alaska’s Native people and his legacy to America’s fisheries.
It is often said that a society is judged by the way that it treats its most vulnerable members. It is appropriate that we judge the character of our elected leaders in the same way.
In Alaska the most vulnerable among us are Alaska Native people – the 120,000 or so Aleuts, Eskimos and Indians. We recognize that our statistics with respect to Alaska Natives are not something of which we are proud.
Alaska’s Native people have incomes that are half that of other Alaskans. We have high rates of domestic violence, child abuse, suicide and violent death. The prison rates of Alaska’s Native people are not acceptable.
For decades Alaska’s most vulnerable people have had no better friend than Ted Stevens. Senator Stevens’ website lists 13 Alaska legislative milestones. Eight of the 13 are directed to improving the condition of Alaska’s first peoples. And they are really so basic.
You’ve all heard the stories. Ted has stood on the floor and talked about the economic conditions that we face. The fact that we don’t have road systems in rural Alaska. The fact that you have to fly to most villages or go by boat. But the reality is that in so many communities and villages still we don’t have basic water and sanitation for those who live there.
Before Ted Stevens came to the Senate, so many of these villages had no running water, no flush toilets, no plumbing, no place to wash clothes, no place to take a shower. The basic, basic needs when it comes to sanitation and health. And in so many instances, our Native people have lived and still live in what can be called third world conditions. Conditions that wouldn’t be tolerated anywhere in this country and conditions that Ted Stevens would not tolerate. He determined that he would change it. And he did.
In 1980, only about 20% of rural houses had indoor sanitation facilities. And thanks to Senator Ted Stevens that percentage rose to well over 75%. Now we still have a ways to go. But that’s pretty remarkable in what he has done.
Talking about health improvements and conditions, it is almost impossible to recruit medical professionals to our small and remote areas. Ted Stevens looked into the future and he said, “How are we going to provide access?” “How are we going to provide for the needs of those who live out here?”
He brought statewide telemedicine – it is the backbone of what we have in Alaska in terms of how we provide for our health care needs. It is the largest telemedicine program in the world. It gives first responders in the village the ability to consult with doctors in the larger cities. People’s lives have been saved. He has made an enormous difference in our communities.
He’s championed the construction of hospitals in our rural hubs out in Kotzebue, Barrow, Nome and Dillingham, as well as Community Health Centers and health clinics in other rural communities.
I know a lot of you have had an opportunity to come to Alaska and your first stop is the Anchorage airport. And you notice that the airport is named after Ted Stevens. Well, you might not know that a large monument at the entrance to the Alaska Native Medical Center has been erected to remind people that this facility would not have been possible without the work of Ted Stevens. So our Alaska Natives enjoy an integrated, high quality health care delivery system, thanks to Ted Stevens.
We know Senator Stevens’ record in the Senate but our colleagues may not have had the opportunity to see how that translates to the people that Ted Stevens has represented for some 40 years. Other areas that he was worked for Alaska Natives: working to preserve their cultural lifestyle through preservation of their subsistence needs and making sure that the Inupiaq people of the North Slope can continue their subsistence whaling. Helping to improve their economies. Helping to reduce transportation costs.
We’re seeing a migration from our smaller villages into the large cities but I can tell you, without the lifestyle improvements that Ted Stevens has brought to rural Alaska our Native people would have left their villages decades ago. And I want to thank you, Ted, for all that you have done there.
Ted’s contribution to the conservation of our fishery resources is equally remarkable. It was nearly 40 years ago that Ted joined with Warren Magnuson and developed a new management regime for our fisheries. This was a time that the fisheries of the United States, including Alaska, were heavily overfished by foreign fleets. But the Magnuson-Stevens Act helped put America back in the fishing industry. This legislation also created the regional fishery management councils. It is largely responsible for the development of Alaska’s sustainable fisheries, and we are very proud of that fact to this day. Alaska supplies over half of the seafood that is caught in this country.
At Ted Stevens’ insistence, the United States negotiated an agreement to stop illegal fishing in the international waters of the Bering Sea. This agreement restored the Alaska Pollock fishery from near collapse.
He’s been a champion, an absolute champion, of ocean conservation. He pushed the UN to ban high seas drift net fishing, a practice that was devastating our salmon fisheries. Alaska’s fishermen will never forget Ted Stevens, the conservationist… the advocate that has truly helped bring our fisheries to where they are today.
Ted’s departure from the Senate leaves a void in our hearts and some very, very big shoes to fill in the Senate. There’s a lot of us in Alaska that are wondering if anyone can fill these shoes and we agonize over whether the federal government’s interest in Alaska will dwindle without Ted here to fight for us. But I’m optimistic, Ted, that this will not be the case.
You have quoted many, many times in speeches that you’ve given here on the floor and back at home, the words of General Billy Mitchell in 1935. “I believe that, in the future, whoever holds Alaska will hold the world…I think it is the most important strategic place in the world.” I think you and I would agree that these words hold true today.
Alaska continues to provide top cover for the defense of the North American continent. Our troops tell us that our communities in Alaska support the military like nowhere else in the country. The heartfelt appreciation is genuine. We offer unencumbered military training areas that simply are not available elsewhere. Our resources – our natural gas and mineral resources will support America’s national security for generations to come.
It is through Ted’s investments in our State and in our people that Alaska is well prepared to meet its future challenges. We are a strong, confident and skilled people and we are empowered. We are empowered by all that Ted’s work has brought to us during his 40 years of service in the Senate.
And while Ted may leave this body, I think all of us will continue to seek your advice, your counsel and your wisdom for as long as you are willing to offer it.
Ted, you have earned a special place in the golden hearts of all Alaskans. And a special place in my heart. Thank you for your service to Alaska.