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Alaska senator eclipses GOP record

Ted Stevens becomes the longest-serving Republican senator in history on Friday. He's been there for more than 38 years, and he isn't finished.
Stevens Record
Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, trails only Democrat Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., in Senate seniority.Lauren Victoria Burke / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Ted Stevens becomes the longest-serving Republican senator in history on Friday. He's been there for more than 38 years, and he isn't finished.

The 83-year-old Alaska Republican was feted on the Senate floor Thursday on the eve of eclipsing Strom Thurmond's 13,989-day (38 years, 3 months) tenure as a GOP senator.

Stevens has already announced he'll run for a seventh full term next year, saying he has more work to do on health care, education, fisheries and infrastructure to help build Alaska's economy.

He has a well-deserved reputation as a feisty advocate for Alaska.

'King of Pork'
"Much of Alaska's progress is a direct result of Ted Stevens," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Thursday. "It starts at the airport. Ted Stevens Anchorage International. It runs through the pipeline ... the double hull tankers that move along the shore, and all through the homes and the remotest reaches of Alaska that have radio and televisions because of Ted."

His critics call him the "King of Pork" for relentlessly "earmarking" taxpayer dollars to Alaska. In one recent year, according to the watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste, Stevens sent almost $1,000 per capita to Alaska, 30 times what went to the average state, based on population.

Stevens makes no apologies for the billions of dollars he has sent to Alaska for port facilities, military barracks, water and sewer projects and the Alaska Railroad, just for starters.

"They can call it what they want," Stevens told The Associated Press. "I call it good government."

The record
Stevens, R-Alaska, was passing the record held by Republican Strom Thurmond, R-S.C. Thurmond is the second-longest serving U.S. senator in history after Democrat Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., but he spent a decade as a Senate Democrat.

A decorated pilot in World War II, Stevens attended Harvard Law School and practiced law in Washington, D.C., in the early 1950s before he was appointed U.S. attorney in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Stevens was appointed in 1968 and won a special election in 1970. He hasn't faced a difficult race since.

The Senate has changed a lot in the years since. Instant communications and the 24-hour cable news cycle has ratcheted up the partisanship, Stevens says. Senators travel together less frequently on fact-finding trips, and they're less likely to forge friendships with members of the other party such as Stevens' two-peas-in-a-pod relationship with Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii.

"We're the small kids on the block," Stevens says of Alaska. "If we don't fight for what we believe in, these guys would just continue to roll over us."