Scandals Put Alaska Seats Up for Grabs

Corruption scandals involving two-thirds of Alaska’s congressional delegation make the GOP’s bid to reclaim the majority in 2008 even more unlikely.

Two Republicans, Sen. Ted Stevens and at-large Rep. Don Young, have dominated Alaska politics for nearly four decades. The idea that either would face electoral difficulties in 2008 seemed inconceivable — until the two congressional titans were swept up in the swirl of controversy surrounding a federal investigation into allegations of widespread political corruption in their home state.

With Monday’s FBI raid of Stevens’ Alaska home producing the loudest headlines yet, Republicans are being forced to contemplate whether these “safe” seats might become vulnerable. Meanwhile, Alaska’s usually beleaguered Democratic minority is adjusting to the new realities and sizing up how much an opportunity these ethics flaps may afford them.

It appears increasingly likely that the Democrats will make more serious runs than usual at both Young, who has held Alaska’s only House seat since 1973, and Stevens, who was appointed to the Senate in 1968 and won his seven subsequent elections by overwhelming margins.

The difficulties faced by Stevens and Young stem from their ties to executives with Veco Corporation, an Alaska-based oil industry services company that is at the center of the wide-ranging state corruption scandal. Bill Allen, the company’s founder, pleaded guilty in May to bribing state legislators. Former state Sen. Ben Stevens, the senator’s son, is among the lawmakers whose offices were searched in the investigation, though he has not been indicted.

“It’s never been considered a real thing to beat Ted Stevens,” said Alaska Democratic Party Executive Director Mike Coumbe. “Now, it’s a real chance we’ll take both the House and the Senate seat.”

Adding in Lisa Murkowski, who initially got her Senate seat only because her daddy appointed her to it, and Alaska easily has the sketchiest delegation of any state. Usually, that honor goes to Louisiana.

One hopes Stevens and Young do the honorable thing and “retire” before the primaries, allowing Republicans without the taint of scandal to make a bid for their seats. Then again, if they were honorable men, they wouldn’t be in this mess.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    Although this is sure to be construed as a partisan issue, I don’t think it really is. IMO the underlying problem is an environment in which elective office is seen as a career rather than a role, something you do for a time. Creates a sense of entitlement.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Absolutely. Certainly, Democrats had their share of similar scandals when they were the party with dozens of lifers in power.

  3. Michael says:

    Corruption scandals involving two-thirds of Alaska’s congressional delegation

    It’s funny how you can make “2” seem like a whole bunch of people.

  4. just me says:

    I think given the size of Alaska’s population, any politician essentially making a career of being a senator or representative would probably lead to some corrupt behavior, so I agree with Dave that probably the root of this problem is career politicians.

    That said, I think your idea of retirement is a good solution to this problem. The state GOP can field qualified candidates in the primary, and the democrats have an easy campaign issue to beat the GOP with removed from their hands.