Story last updated at 3:15 p.m. Thursday, October 31, 2002

Stevens visits Homer on campaign tour
by Chris Bernard
Staff Writer

photo: news

  Photo by Chris Bernard, Homer News
Sen. Ted Stevens addresses reporters last week at a local restaurant. Stevens was in Homer as part of a campaign tour throughout the region.  
Sen. Ted Stevens met with Homer reporters at a local restaurant last Wednesday as the rain began to fall in earnest outside. He wanted to talk about anything but the weather.

"We're flying to Cordova after this," he said before the press conference began, staring out the windows overlooking Kachemak Bay. A fog loitered over the water, and heavy rainfall splashed off the deck.

About a dozen people gathered in the quiet dining room to listen in. Before facing reporters' questions, Stevens talked about several examples of funding he's helped bring to Homer, including:

* $200,000 put at his request into the Army Corps of Engineers budget to begin an investigation of the Homer Harbor to modify its design, with another $480,000 to dredge the harbor;

* $1.4 million he helped appropriate for seawater intake, a shop, a storage facility and a dock at the Kasitsna Bay lab;

* money provided through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration budgets for the Islands and Ocean Center;

* funds earmarked in previous years to help Homer Electric Association remove dead and dying beetle-infested trees adjacent to power-line rights of way;

* federal money put through the Public Land Highways program for Homer-area road projects.

Stevens, a smallish man with a preoccupied demeanor, wore a dark jacket over a dark casual shirt, set off with what appeared to be a bolo tie made of ivory. Low-cut rubber duck boots poked out from beneath the table where he sat facing microphones.

The senator is up for re-election for his seventh term. His first term, which began in 1968, was served as an appointment after the death of Sen. E.L. Bartlett.

"We're on a four-or-five stop tour for my campaign," he said. Traveling with representatives from fellow Republican Sen. Frank Murkowski's gubernatorial campaign team, Stevens was to visit Valdez and Fairbanks in addition to Homer and Cordova.

If re-elected, the 79-year-old Stevens will be the most senior -- and oldest -- member of the Senate, he said. If the Republican Party regains control of the Senate, he'll be President Pro Tem; and if Murkowski is elected governor, his successor in the Senate will have seniority as a mid-term appointee.

"(Murkowski and I have) agreed to sort of work as a team," he said. "We're looking for him to move to Juneau because there are lots of things we can work on there while we still have seniority in Washington."

When asked if Murkowski should appoint his successor in advance of the election, as many voters have suggested, Stevens bristled.

"Never get your hand caught in the cabinet," he said. "We don't believe (Murkowski) should address that issue. I've not talked to him about that."

The senator's expression cooled a bit, and he continued. "Beyond that, I'm very pragmatic about it. There's probably 20 or 30 people who feel they deserve that appointment. Why make 29 of them mad?"

Stevens said he and Murkowski hold similar opinions on many issues.

"We support the president in his resolution on Iraq," he said, adding that it's time for President Bush "to issue a mandate (Hussein) will have to comply with.

"There's no question that he's stronger than he was at the time he invaded Kuwait," he said. "There's no reason for that buildup."

He also addressed the issue of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which he said he believes will eventually happen.

"We believe the ANWR footprint will be less than 20 acres," he said. "It's going to be very difficult as long as the Democratic platform contains a clause limiting drilling."

He said the situation in the Persian Gulf has grown volatile enough that the U.S. will need to begin turning to domestic sources for oil.

"Polls show our number one issue in Alaska is getting ANWR open," Stevens said. "I think we will get ANWR. I'm not sure exactly when, but we've got to keep trying."

Following the conference, Stevens posed for pictures and chatted with members of the audience, many of whom the 50-year Alaska resident recognized. Afterward, as he headed upstairs to a luncheon, someone asked him how he thought the press conference went.

"They said they were reporters, but nobody checked their IDs," Stevens joked.

"I think you handled them pretty well," the man said. Stevens laughed, and began to climb the stairs.

Chris Bernard can be reached at