ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska has made it clear he won't be putting away his Incredible Hulk tie anytime soon.
At 82, Stevens is the most senior Republican in the Senate, but a drubbing he received last month has some asking if the senator is ready to call it quits.
There have been signs of discontent. There was the threat Stevens made about quitting the Senate if he lost the "Bridges to Nowhere" money. Later, he called it "the saddest day of my life" when he again lost a fight to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil drilling.
But at a recent news conference in Anchorage, the senator, who likes to wear the Hulk tie when waging an important fight in the Senate, declared he is not about to fold.
"I'm going to stay and get ANWR," he said. "If they want to get rid of me, they will have to pass ANWR."
Stevens — known for his flashes of temper and his ability to bring gobs of federal money back to his home state — sounded more hurt than angry about what happened in the Senate. He said there are certain senators he won't associate with anymore because of it.
"I've written them off," he said.
The rough treatment came when he staged two fights — one, a battle he has waged for a quarter-century to open the refuge in Alaska to oil drilling, the other to keep $450 million in federal money for two remote bridges, dubbed by critics the "Bridges to Nowhere."
In the end, in a crushing defeat for Stevens, the effort to open ANWR fell short by three votes. As for the bridge money, Congress let Alaska keep it but dropped the provision earmarking it for the bridges. The state now will decide how to spend it.
"When I first went there, you would never hear a senator talk about another senator the way they spoke about me that night," Stevens, who has been in the Senate for 36 years, said about the ANWR fight. "There are people I've considered to be personal friends without regard to politics, and they were turning into vipers as far as I was concerned."
Stevens angered some of his colleagues by attaching ANWR to a must-pass defense spending bill. Anti-drilling forces united around freshman Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who described Stevens' tactics as "legislative blackmail" and "trickery."
Stevens' longtime friend, 88-year-old Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., got up to oppose Stevens, arguing that Republicans were breaking the rules for political purposes.
Although Byrd's statements were "tough to take," Stevens said he is still on speaking terms with his old friend. He refused to say who is on his list.
Stevens complained that Senate colleagues with opposing political views argue passionately for or against an issue and then play tennis or go swimming afterward.
"It is a different world," he said. "The extreme venom on the floor ... that never would have happened in days gone by."
Amy Call, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., agreed that "comity and trust in the Senate has certainly declined," and blamed "increased obstruction and partisan politics from Democrats."
"I understand that the ANWR proposal was very important to him, but it won't affect the affection that I have for Senator Stevens," Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.
On ANWR, Stevens said he was counting on help from certain senators who had come to him for help over the years when he was chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee from 1997 through 2004.
With anger in his voice, Stevens said: "They needed help and ... I've helped a great many of them."