08/11/2010 04:48 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

How Ted Stevens Got Into the Senate

Wally Hickel, the former Republican governor of Alaska, once told me how he appointed Ted Stevens to the Senate seat vacated by the death of Sen. Bob Bartlett in 1968.

I interviewed Hickel in his office in Anchorage in 2007. He told me he passed up the man who had beat Stevens in the 1968 Republican primary, Elmer Rasmuson, because Rasmuson's family bank denied Hickel a loan to build an Anchorage hotel following the Good Friday earthquake of 1964.

The Rasmuson family was one of the most powerful in Alaska in those days. Besides banking interests, they also owned hotels in Anchorage and didn't welcome Hickel's competition, Hickel said. So he admitted to me he essentially took revenge on Elmer Rasmuson by passing him up for Stevens, who had been the state primary voters' second choice.

There was nothing illegal about it. Hickel was under no obligation to appoint the man preferred by Alaskan primary voters. Alaska was rough and tumble frontier country in those days, more so than now. That's how politics was played.

Interestingly, it was Stevens who had pushed through the state legislation that gave the governor the right to fill vacated Senate seats. It is also eerie to note that Stevens had insinuated that his Democratic rival in the Senate, Mike Gravel of Alaska, was somehow indirectly responsible for the death of his wife in a 1978 plane crash. Gravel had dragged out debate on a bill causing Stevens to take a flight later than scheduled, the one that went down and killed his wife. It badly injured Stevens.

Hickel also died earlier this year.