Ted Stevens would be shaking his head about the ongoing flap over President Donald Trump’s “quid pro quo” with Ukrainian government leaders.
Stevens, one of the longest-serving and most effective members of the United States Senate, was a masterful politician who helped build Alaska in the years after statehood through expert practice of the political game.
The term quid pro quo carries with it a negative connotation, the implication that there is something squalid about the transaction. But it is equivalent to the long-standing political practice sometimes described as “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.”
It is an exchange of favors which can also be described as “you help me and I’ll help you.” When applied in politics, such an exchange is generally considered acceptable, especially if the recipients of the benefit are those the politician was elected to serve.
Based on the information made public, President Donald Trump seems to have told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that American aid to Ukraine could be withheld unless that government investigated the son of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
Hunter Biden was then associated with a Ukrainian gas company and his father Joe was then, as now, running for president of the United States against Trump.
President Trump has a way of sometimes making things look sleazy, whether they are or not, with the online tweets he seems unable to resist making on such occasions.
Ted Stevens was a master politician and his success in that arena worked to Alaska’s benefit hundreds of times, perhaps thousands. He took office in 1968, just nine years after the state’s admission to the union.
Stevens success and his reputation as this state’s most important political asset drew the attention of a group of ambitious lawyers in the U.S. Justice Department. They managed to bring charges against Stevens for accepting gifts from friends, including, Bill Allen, founder of a major Alaska oil industry contractor and publisher of The Voice of The Times, where I worked for eight years.
The charges made against Stevens were highly questionable and, when he finally threw the case out, Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia fumed: “In nearly 25 years on the bench, I’ve never seen anything approaching the mishandling and misconduct that I’ve seen in this case.”
The damage to Stevens reputation was done, however. The charges were brought just three months before the 2008 election and Ted lost his re-election campaign. He died in a plane crash two years later, much to the anguish of his many friends and supporters. His name was given to Anchorage’s primary airport and it is proudly known today as Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.
Comparing President Donald Trump to Alaska’s Senator Ted Stevens is probably a stretch, but those who are trying to impeach Trump would do well to remember that the President appears to have been playing a traditional form of American politics when he tried to lean on the Ukrainian president to investigate Hunter Biden.
We may not like what he did, and I don’t, but Trump was following a tradition that goes back many years. Perhaps we should all just hold our noses and go on about the country’s business.
Tom Brennan is an Anchorage columnist and author of five books. He was a reporter/columnist for The Anchorage Times and an editor and columnist at The Voice of The Times.