By Libby Casey
Alaska’s former Senator Ted Stevens is reflecting on the life of his long time colleague Senator Robert Byrd today. Byrd died this morning at the age of 92 after serving West Virginia in the Senate for more than 5 decades. Four of them were spent serving along-side and sparring with the 86-year old Stevens.
Stevens says when he first entered the Senate in 1968, Byrd took him aside for guidance.
He was known to champion the Constitution, which he carried around with him everywhere, and was a stickler for procedural rules. Stevens says that could work in their favor, because Byrd was a master at finding ways in the Senate to benefit his rural state. Stevens says even though they were on different sides of the political aisle, Byrd helped him advocate for his small-population state.
But in terms of Alaska issues, he really was our ally because West Virginia is a small state, and has a Senator from a small state, he really understood the problems of not having enormous numbers of people in the House of Representatives.
And he worked with us to show us the ropes and show us how we could get things done in the Senate, and I think we did more through the appropriations process then Alaskans will ever know.
The two served for decades on the powerful Appropriations Committee, which Byrd encouraged Stevens to get on. And Stevens says his colleague was influential in legislation that’s important in Alaska today.
He was very much involved in helping us with the Native lands claim settlement, and he was involved in the 200 mile bill, the bill to get 200 miles off our shore. We worked together on so many things, he very much influential. He established the Appalachian Commission, and based upon that I created the Commission that affected Alaska’s future in a similar way. So we sort of followed one another.
Stevens says Byrd was partisan, and loyal to his Democratic party, and even journeyed to Alaska once to campaign for Stevens’ opponent. But Stevens says it wasn’t personal, and that Byrd stopped and visited with him while there.
Byrd was the Senate Pro Tem, the longest serving member of his party. Stevens had that honor when the Republicans controlled the Senate from 2003 to 2007, and says Byrd generously guided him in his duties.
When Stevens said goodbye to the Senate after losing his reelection bid in 2008, Byrd tailored an Irish Prayer for the occasion:
May the sun shine warmly upon your face Ted, may the rains fall softly upon your fields, and until we meet again, may God hold you Ted in the hollow of his hand.
Stevens says he visited Byrd numerous times in recent months, including during his hospital stays, to talk about what was going on in politics and remember their days serving together in the Senate.