Will Stevens’s ouster be good for Alaska?
He delivered ‘the goods,’ but his successor aims to do things the senator couldn’t, like open ANWR to drilling.
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“Senator Stevens couldn’t even get into the doors of the environmental community because there was no communication,” Begich said at a Nov. 19 press conference. “I’ve always gone into groups that may agree with me, may not agree with me, but I’m always going to sit with them. And that’s a huge difference that did not exist for many years on the issue of ANWR.” Having an Alaska Democrat in the caucus for the first time since Mike Gravel left the Senate in 1981 will help promote the pro-development message, he said.Skip to next paragraph
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Begich said, too, that he hopes to remake the state’s image as corrupt and greedy, and to start telling the “broader story of who we are,” he said. That means better explaining Alaska’s circumstances, such as the challenges of providing healthcare, and showing how the No Child Left Behind Act is unworkable in rural Alaska.
It seems clear that Begich will not be a cookie-cutter Democrat.
“Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a different Democrat. I’m from Alaska,” he said at the news conference. That means support for gun rights and other positions embraced by most Alaskans but not by Democrats nationally.
The Anchorage mayor may be little known in most of America – the satirical political website wonkette.com referred to him as a “random warm-bodied Democrat” – but the Begich name is storied in Alaska. Begich’s father, Nick Begich, was the last Democrat to represent Alaska in the US House. (He died in a plane crash while campaigning for reelection in 1972.) At a young age, Mark gained a reputation as a savvy entrepreneur – his disco dances were one of several moneymaking ventures – and a political prodigy. He skipped college and went to work as a driver and personal aide to Tony Knowles, then Anchorage’s mayor and later the governor. He was elected to the Anchorage Assembly at 26 and served the maximum three terms. He upset Anchorage’s incumbent mayor George Wuerch in 2003 and was handily reelected three years later.
“He is a coalition-builder par excellence,” says former Assembly member Heather Flynn, a Democrat.
Foes, though, accuse Begich of being overzealous, sometimes running roughshod over rules and the Assembly’s power.
In the Senate, Begich will join another second-generation Alaska politician, Republican Lisa Murkowski. She occupies the seat that was held for 22 years by her father, Frank. Begich predicts the two will have a good working relationship, saying they have a “different style” that is more collaborative than the confrontational approach used by Stevens, who tended to demonize opponents as “outside environmental extremists.”