Alaskans continue to react - and be sharply divided - on the Department of Justice's decision to drop the seven-count indictment of former Senator Ted Stevens. A KTUU Channel 2 unscientific poll shows that while 49 percent of respondents do not consider Stevens to be exonerated, 48 percent do, with three percent undecided. A special section for LTEs in the Anchorage Daily News revealed four in favor of Stevens, and four opposed. A post on the Juneau Empire Voxbox contains additional reaction centered around southeast Alaska. Fairbanks Daily News-Miner columnist Dermot Cole questions whether the decision will impact other Alaska corruption cases, since the Feds may be reluctant to use a demonstrably-tainted Bill Allen as a star witness. And well after other notables had weighed in, Governor Sarah Palin finally issued a statement supportive of Stevens.
But a growing number of Alaskans don't believe exoneration is sufficient; they think the election of Mark Begich to succeed Stevens has now become tainted, and want Begich to step down and stand in a special election (in which Stevens presumably would run). Championing their cause is Alaska Republican Party State Chairman Randy Ruedrich, who sent out an e-mail calling for the resignation of Begich (also reported by KTUU). Here's the pertinent part:
The Alaska Republican Party further believes that current Senator Mark Begich should resign his position to allow for a new, special election, so Alaskans may have the chance to vote for a Senator without the improper influence of the corrupt Department of Justice.
The only reason Mark Begich won the election in November is because a few thousand Alaskans thought that Senator Ted Stevens was guilty of seven felonies. Senator Stevens has maintained his innocence and now, even the Department of Justice acknowedges it's wrong doing.
A special election will allow Alaskans to have a real, non-biased, credible process where the most qualified person could win, without the manipulation of the Department of Justice.
Since this post, Senator Begich has responded, saying that although he believed it was clear there was misconduct during the senator's trial, he stepped into the race "long before Senator Stevens' legal troubles began, because Alaskans were looking for a change and a senator as independent as Alaska".
"Today, with our country in a severe recession, it's more important than ever that we have a senator focused on fixing our economy so Alaskans have the jobs they need to support their families," he said. "That is my job in the Senate, and I'm honored to serve Alaskans for the next six years".
Fueling the growing outrage is an extremely limp-wristed, back-handed, watered-down statement of acknowledgement issued by Begich on April 1st, in which Begich merely characterized the DOJ's action as "reasonable". Begich's fence-straddling equivocation drew sharp criticism from the left-of-center Alaska Dispatch blog. Senator Begich should reconsider his statement and issue an apology to Alaskans for insulting the state and its former Senator.
Since this post was published, KTUU has conducted an unscientific poll, and 60 percent of respondents say that Mark Begich should not resign.
But is it really necessary to call a special election and expend more public funds on the process? First, we need to define "exoneration". From the DOJ announcement, we find that the DOJ simply decided that a new trial was warranted, and then, in the interests of justice, decided not to press for a new trial. Thus the Federal indictment has been effectively abandoned. But nowhere in the announcement does it state that the conviction of Ted Stevens has been overturned. Thus, Ted Stevens still technically has a Federal conviction on his record. But this is an oversight that Stevens' defense team could seek to correct during the April 7th hearing before Judge Emmet Sullivan, where the judge will determine whether or not to accept the DOJ's action. At that time, the defense team could file a motion to actually overturn the conviction itself and give Stevens a clean record. This would be richly deserved.
Even though it would be an extremely noble gesture for Senator Begich to resign, forever enshrining him as a positive political role model in Alaska, there are only two reasons why he would need to do so; either because of actual improprieties in the election process itself, or personal misconduct on Begich's part himself. Neither are known to have occurred; consequently, the public expenditure on a special election would not be justified.
Mark Begich benefited from the conviction of Ted Stevens, but he did not originate it, and kept Stevens' troubles out of his campaign rhetoric as much as possible. Begich has not rendered himself unworthy of office. Besides, a changing of the guard was inevitable; Stevens is 85 years old. We could have picked a far worse replacement than Mark Begich. Let's not allow passion to trump reason in this case.