Competitive guys often don't take defeat well, and there's no question that someone who rises to the level of chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee has proved himself to be a tough competitor.
Given that, it appears that Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, is taking sour losing to a new level. The senator, who has long pushed for oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge thought he was finally going to win the prize this year. And when he didn't, he got ugly.
Stevens obviously figured that with the strong backing of President Bush, with gas prices rising, with oil supplies questionable and with a war in progress, he'd be about to get majority support in the Senate to open up ANWR (the House hasn't had problems with sinking wells in the Alaskan wilderness for years).
When the Senate voted 52-48 to keep oil exploration out of the fiscal year 2004 budget, Stevens blew his top. The powerful chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee vowed revenge against those senators by whom he felt betrayed.
& quot;I make this commitment: People who vote against this today are voting against me, and I will not forget it, & quot; he said on the floor of the Senate before the vote.
Afterward he said, & quot;You bet your bottom dollar I'll remember [this vote], if I ever give my word, I keep it. I'm mad enough to eat nails right now, to have people not keep their word to me. & quot;
What's the game plan?
That second statement makes the nature of Stevens threat to remember the vote somewhat ambiguous. Does he intend retribution toward anyone who didn't support drilling in ANWR, or only those whom he had reason to believe would be supporting him?
It's an important distinction for Ohio, because one of the few Republican senators voting against ANWR was Mike DeWine. But DeWine's vote was no surprise to Stevens, at least not this year.
DeWine had voted to open up ANWR in 1995 and 2000, but last year announced he was changing his position because, as he explained, "The risks outweigh the benefits. The impacts of drilling or accidents in the fragile ANWR area are too high."
DeWine suggested that the United States would be better served by investing in new fuel-saving technologies and in renewable fuels, such as ethanol.
Accordingly, he voted against ANWR last year and this year.
Stevens hasn't said just who the targets of his wrath will be. DeWine's office says that because the Ohio senator's vote was known to Stevens in advance, DeWine anticipates maintaining good working relationship with Stevens. DeWine is a member of the Appropriations Committee and has had success in getting funding for important Ohio projects.
We hope that's a correct reading. In fact, we hope that after Stevens has time to cool off, he'll recognize that in politics, as in life, no one wins all of the time.