Unveiling of Official Capitol Portrait of Senator Ted Stevens

[Mr./Madam] Mr. President, as the senator from Missouri has stated, this is a significant day. This is a very special day here in the Congress. As later this afternoon we're going to gather to pay tribute to a truly great senator, the late Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska. His official portrait is unveiled or will be unveiled shortly by the U. S. Senate Commission on Art. So his portrait will be part of the Senate leadership portrait collection, which honors past presidents pro tempore and past leaders.

Like all of the families and friends and colleagues who have gathered for the formal occasion, I am so pleased he will be memorialized here forever in the United States Capitol watching over all of us.

Now, there's only 38 members currently in the Senate who had served with Ted, but I think it's important that all of us – and really every American – should know who he was and why he so clearly deserves this honor. Ted was a public servant. He was the ultimate public servant. He dedicated his life to public service. He spent more than six decades fighting for our state and the country that he loved.

His service began during World War II when he flew as a pilot in the Army Air Corps. He flew missions behind enemy lines in China in support of Flying Tigers. The stories that we've heard over the years are truly legendary of his efforts there in war. After the military, Ted helped Alaska achieve its dream of statehood. He was Secretary Seaton’s – he was basically the point man of the administration during the Eisenhower administration. So, you think of what that means to have the opportunity to shape statehood for your state and then go on to serve your state at this level, as he did for some 40 years.

He went on to become one of the longest-serving Republican senators of all times, representing Alaska in this chamber with great dignity, with great distinction over the course of 40 exceptional years. 

So this is truly a public servant. Really from the very beginning Ted was one of those special kind of guys. After being appointed to the Senate in 1968, he established himself really as a leader among leaders. Over the course of his time here in the Senate, he chaired the Ethics Committee, Rules, Governmental Affairs, Commerce, as well as the Appropriations Committee. From 1977 to 1985, his colleagues chose him to be the Assistant Republican Leader. He held the Senate Arms Control Observer Group for 15 years. And he served as the President Pro Tempore, the senior member of the Senate’s majority party from 2003 to 2007. So leadership across all levels.

And as one might expect, Ted was a force to be reckoned with. He made sure that Alaska's voice was heard and heard in every debate. And, as such, he secured an incredible number of legislative victories that shaped both the state of Alaska and our nation. He helped settle most of Alaska Native land claims, returning 44 million acres of land to first Alaskans and establishing a new model that empowered our Native peoples to create new economic opportunities.

Ted was instrumental in securing passage of a bill that enabled the construction of our 800-mile long Trans-Alaska oil pipeline, which to this day remains the backbone of our state's economy, a critical part of our nation's energy security supply. Ted was a guy that the worked very, very hard but he also loved to fish. He loved to be outside. His focus of fishing led him to be very concerned about what he saw as the overfishing by foreign fleets, which was taking place just miles off of Alaska's shores. So he worked across the aisle with Senator Warren Magnuson to protect and sustain our fisheries into the future and that landmark law, the Magnuson-Stevens law has been reauthorized to this day, it still bears their names.

It really is impossible to overstate the beneficial impact that Ted had on Alaska. Now, keep in mind, he came to the Senate in 1968, less than a decade after Alaska had become a state. So he knew as well as anyone how tough those early years of statehood had been. And he knew probably as well as anyone how difficult life was for so many Alaskans, particularly in the rural parts of our state. And more than anyone else, he helped to change that.

So Ted was an appropriator for a long time, legendary in that role, but he once convinced the entire Appropriations Committee to come to Alaska, but not just to come to Alaska, come to Alaska for two weeks to see Alaska's needs firsthand.

The federal funding that he secured year after year allowed many Alaskans to gain access to very basic infrastructure. We're talking water and sewer, things that most Americans would take for granted. But he also worked to help develop Alaska so that we have a telemedicine network that works. He helped facility bypass mail, essential air service for our rural communities, programs and benefits that continue to this day.

And there is absolutely no doubt – no doubt – that the people of Alaska are better off because of Ted Stevens. Many around this state still lovingly refer to Ted as Uncle Ted. We are happier, we are clearly healthier, we are a safer and a more prosperous state, because of his contributions.

But the same is true for every American because Ted's accomplishments did not end with the state of Alaska. He was a patriot. He was firmly committed to our national defense and the security of our country. He had great, great admiration for those who answered the call to serve in uniform, as he had. He traveled the world to visit with our troops, to hear directly from them. He was a long, longtime leader on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. He and Dan Inouye would kind of share the chairmanship, one between the other practically. But throughout his senate tenure, he fought tirelessly to make sure that our military had the best equipment, better pay, had the needed care that they sought. He was a defender for those who defended us.

Ted was an avid surfer when he was young. He recognized the importance of sports in our daily lives. I can remember the stories – it's gone around for so many years. But he would tell the story of having to put his eldest daughter Sue in a boys' softball league. So he championed Title IX of the Educational Amendments Act which provides equal opportunity for women to participate in sports. He also authored the Amateur Sports Act, which created the U. S. Olympics Committee, and worked to ensure funding for physical education programs, programs again that had that is fingerprint from Ted Stevens, from so many years prior.

I can go on and on about Ted's accomplishments, his legislative accomplishments are just considerable and far too many to speak here today. Things like his work to bandaging high-seas driftnets, to the funding that he secured to advance aids and breast cancer research. He was involved in so much.

But instead, I want to talk about what made him so beloved, because he was beloved. Maybe feared a little bit but beloved. The first thing to understand is that Ted had a pretty simple motto. It wasn't very complicated. He said, “to hell with politics. Just do what's right for Alaska.” And he lived by that every day that he served here.

He would work with anyone, anyone who was willing to do right by the state of Alaska, no matter who you were, where you came from, what side of the aisle you were on. I mentioned Senator Inouye and the relationship that Ted had with him on the Defense Appropriations and on the Appropriations Committee. But they formed a very, very close relationship. They had a lot in common. Obviously they were both veterans, both from young offshore states. But they looked out for one another. They had one another's backs. And on committees, as I mentioned, they would, they would be Chairman and Vice Chairman, trading off, but working with one another.

In later years it wasn't uncommon to find them both smoking cigars out on the balcony in the early evenings talking about what had happened that day or what was going to happen the next day. Another thing that folks should know about Ted was that he was definitely a fighter.

I'm told that Newsweek described him has a scrapper when he first arrived in the Senate, and that certainly proved to be an apt description throughout his tenure. Ted was clear. If Alaska's interests were at stake, out there to defend it. And there were times he would put on his Incredible Hulk Tie and he would channel the big guy's persona. But when that happened, when that happened, everyone knew, look out, because Ted was going to the mat for Alaska that day. And, look out. 

Some suggested that Ted had a bit of a temper. I happen to think – you're chuckling back there. I hear that – I think Ted knew that a little bit of a temper could actually serve him pretty well. And he liked to say – and he'd usually have a cute little gleam in his eye –but he'd say, “I don't lose my temper. I know exactly where I left it.”

But Ted was one of those guys. He was great to his people. But when something needed to be said, when it needed to be direct and to the point, he was not guy to shy away from it. And that was another part of what really made him a legend around here. I think those who are listening and those who know me know that I have great, immense affection for Ted.

And on this day and the recognition that he is receiving has great personal meaning. I had the extraordinary fortune to know Ted Stevens for almost my entire life. At one point he was my boss. I was a High School intern, and that was my first opportunity to really be out of Alaska on my own when I was an intern here for Senator Ted. He was later, of course, my colleague here in the Senate, where he mentored me and partnered with me to help serve Alaska. But, above all that, he was a true friend, truly a friend. And I miss him dearly.

And I'm reminded of him all the time. I have his old office in the Hart building. I have pictures and mementos that remind me of Ted. Every time I go back home to the state, I think of him. And it's not just because of when I land it says Ted Stevens International Airport. But also when I go out to the communities, when I see a road or a bridge or a community that is no longer utilizing a honey bucket system, because of the work that Ted did. Because when you go home, when you visit in Alaska, you see firsthand the impact that he had. You see it everywhere.

I often say that Ted built Alaska and that Ted was Alaska. So you can see why we named him the Alaskan of the 20th Century, why we remain so grateful for all that he has done for us.

So I’m happy that there is now going to be a place here in the Capitol where I can visit Ted, talk to him, think about what he might have said and the counsel he might have provided for our state and our nation. But I do hope that this portrait will be a reminder to those of us who serve here that we can work together, even on the hardest of days, and that if we do, we can achieve great things for the American people and that sometimes that might just require us to say, “to hell with politics; just do what is right.”

[Mr./Madam] So, Mr. President, I'm honored, I’m privileged to be here today with so many Alaskans, including Ted's wife, Catherine, many of his children and grandchildren. I know that they are overwhelmed by the number of friends and colleagues and staff who are here to celebrate Ted's life and his legacy. And think – channeling here – I think Ted is looking down on all of this and he's thinking, “Enough already. This is too much. Y’all have to get back to work.” Because after all, we have appropriations bills on the floor. So with that, Mr. President, I yield the floor.