Update: The portrait was painted by Dean Larson, a former intern of Senator Stevens from 1980-1981, who grew up in Palmer, Alaska.
“To hell with politics, just do what’s right for Alaska.”
The famous words of Alaska’s U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens were repeated frequently in Washington, D.C., today, where senators from across the political spectrum and across the country joined together to honor the late senator with the unveiling of a new portrait.
It was a day to remember his legislative accomplishments like his sponsorship of Title IX, ensuring expanded access to sports to women, his leadership in the Senate, his fishing trips and his friendships. But most of all, it was a day to remember his dedication to Alaska.
Alaska’s U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkwoski said in her comments on the Senate floor that his dedication to Alaska was what helped him be effective on capitol hill.
“I want to speak very briefly about what I feel made him so effective and really so beloved because he was beloved—maybe feared a little bit, but beloved. The first thing to understand is that Ted had a pretty simple motto,” she said. “It really wasn’t very complicated. He said, ‘To hell with politics, just do what’s right for Alaska.’ And he lived by that every day that he served here. He would work with anyone, anyone who was willing to do right by the state of Alaska no matter who you were, where you came from, what side of the aisle you were on.”
U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, in his comments on the U.S. Senate floor, said those words were on his cufflinks, which were once owned by Stevens.
“When we’re doing important stuff, I’ll wear these on the floor to remind me—and I think all of us—what’s important to not just our states, but our country,” he said.
The portrait was unveiled in the afternoon in the old U.S. Senate chambers in a closed-door event attended by family and elected officials.
Vermont Sen. Pat Leahy spoke fondly about Stevens, joking that he personally never would have had the courage to wear an Incredible Hulk tie, saying that the country needs more people like Stevens right now.
“He was an old-school lion of the Senate. I think we need in this country leaders with his brand of courage and duty and real patriotism,” he said. “He didn’t have to tell people that he was a patriot, he walked into the room and you had a patriot.”
Why it matters
Stevens was many things to many people over his lengthy career in Alaska politics and in the U.S. Senate, but he’ll be perhaps remembered most for his dedication to his state. His words “To hell with politics, just do what’s right for Alaska” will be perhaps his most lasting legacy, guiding and reminding Alaska’s elected officials to work together to meet the unique challenges faced by the 49th State.
It’s that dedication—along with the Incredible Hulk tie and fishing trips with fellow senators—that was remembered on Wednesday.
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, had kind words about Stevens’ legacy:
“May we all be devoted to our states as Ted was for Alaska.”