You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

A Thought On Stevens's Conviction

Who says DC doesn't get a vote in Congress?  Twelve residents of the District of Columbia, to state the obvious, effectively elected Mark Begich to the U.S. Senate today. You don't have to feel sorry for Ted Stevens, whose career is ending in a richly deserved fashion, to be at least somewhat troubled by that prospect. Alaskans deserved to have a say on whether the Democratic Party merits a majority large enough to be able to get its agenda through the Senate intact. The median Alaskan voter generally prefers the GOP, but to translate that preference into action, her only choice is to vote for a convicted felon and hope he resigns or is expelled so that a generic Republican can be appointed to the seat.

One might very well lay the blame at Stevens's feet, since he was the one who decided to play with fire by refusing to step aside and then stupidly demanding an expedited trial, but it shouldn't have been his choice to make. Alaska Republicans deserved to have the option of voting for a viable non-Stevens candidate in the primary, but because Stevens wasn't indicted until after the filing deadline, their only other choice, as Eve learned, was some wacky random dude who moved to the state in January and sounds like a MoveOn volunteer. Under the circumstances, it's hard to blame the party's voters for taking their chances with Stevens. (Though their decision to also stick with Don Young, even though he had a legitimate challenger, suggests that maybe Alaska Republicans aren't very strategic anyway.)

Granted, there's probably no cure here that isn't worse than the disease: It would be a terrible idea for the scrupulously professional and nonpartisan Public Integrity Section at the Justice Department to time its indictments based on the political calendar, and it's hard to conceive of any workable rule that would extend filing deadlines in circumstances like these. But it's still worth noting that there are inevitable downsides to the way we elect legislators in America, and this is one of them (one might make the same point about Tim Mahoney's live by the sword, die by the sword career in Congress). It would have been unfortunate had the voters of New Jersey lost the chance to send a credible Democrat to the Senate in 2002, and, though I can't claim the injustice will keep me awake at night, it's unfortunate Alaskans have lost the chance to send a credible Republican this year.

--Josh Patashnik