Heidi Zemach for SCN-
Alaska Senator Mark Begich spoke with about 45 Seward residents at the Resurrect Art Coffee House and Gallery Tuesday afternoon, July 1st, after visiting Seward’s new federally-qualified community health clinic. The campaigning senator showed up 30-minutes late, casually dressed in a green shirt and jeans. Speaking rapidly to a diverse group of residents, he thanked everyone for waiting, and apologized for the political television ads that have been inundating the Alaska media for months. All that his opponents are really doing is “being negative and blaming people,” he said. They are the result of the U.S. Supreme Court decision “Citizen’s United,” which allows corporations and individuals to make unlimited contributions to political candidates and issues, he said. Begich favors a return to campaign contribution limits.
Begich predicted that his opponents would spend between 10 -15 million more dollars in an all-out media battle to defeat him, and said 20 thousand negative ads have already run against him, funded by individuals and corporations.
“It’s sickening to watch the two sides go back and forth,” commented Seward resident Jerry Pickett earlier as he awaited the senator’s arrival. “I get so fed up with the accusations that aren’t even from the state. It’s outsiders making a big mess of stuff and it’s not right.”
Whichever republican candidate wins state republican primary August 19th, and goes on to oppose him in the November 4 general election, Dan Sullivan, or Joe Miller, Begich believes the election will be extremely close, possibly only a 1-2 percent vote difference as was the case when he was elected six years ago. That time he realize he’d won only after the write-in and early votes were tallied two weeks after the election.
Begich said he’ll offer a grass-roots, traditional campaign, with offices and organizers from Seward and many other communities going door to door and handing out signs and bumper stickers. He pledged to personally campaign hard across the state, and added he’ll focus the campaign on his record, and on upcoming issues facing Alaska, although he also pledged to forcefully address any untruths that his opponents may put out about his record.
The issues Begich cares most about everybody already knows, he said: veterans affairs, health and welfare, rural Alaska Native issues, women’s health care, equal rights, fisheries, military jobs and infrastructure and harbors among them.
Veterans across the U.S. are unable to receive health care and the Veterans Administration has been in crisis, he said. But Alaska is being recognized as being on the forefront of the states doing it right. During Begichs’ time in office the state’s waiting list of Alaskan veterans was reduced from a thousand to practically none, and now veterans living in Alaska can receive medical care through their local tribal consortiums and qualified health providers rather than having to fly great distances to go to VA hospitals in Anchorage or Seattle.
The senator also addressed spiraling student loan debt, and his unsuccessful attempt to pass legislation that would have lessened the burden young people have by allowing them to refinance their outstanding student loans at lower interest rates.
Begich would not take a stand on whether he supports Ballot Measure #1, the citizen’s referendum that would repeal Senate Bill 21 which lowered state taxes on the profits of oil companies that operate in Alaska. He said he could see how lowering state taxes could benefit the oil companies, and encourage new oil development. But he added that he also believed in the concept of offering tax breaks to businesses for doing new things that the companies promise to do, then actually do. But the incentive would only be paid after the fact, rather than beforehand.
Begich said he has already attained a good deal of influence in Washington D.C. on issues concerning Alaska, despite his state being greatly outnumbered by those with larger congressional delegations and populations. His influence is about to get even stronger as many of the older senators retire, and Begich moves up the ranks trailed by a great amount of newer, younger representatives, and those yet to come, explains Max Croes, Communications Director for Alaskans for Begich. Having begun in the 90th ranking when elected in 2008, he has already moved up to 63rd place in senate seniority, and will move up to about 55 if re-elected. He is also ranked fifth within his own party. Because of his standing, Begich gets a seat on many senate committees, and chairs two sub-committees important to Alaska: Oceans and the Coast Guard, which includes overseeing the nation’s fisheries; and another on Federal Emergency Response, or FEMA, Croes said.
Working closely across the aisle with the split Alaska delegation, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, (R) and House Representative Don Young, (R) Begich has been able to react swiftly on the state’s behalf on issues such as rural bypass, Essential Air delivery services, and spiraling U.S. Postal Service costs and quickly get them back to acceptable levels. He was able to keep genetically- engineered salmon, “Frankenfish” out of the U.S. markets, or at least to require truthful product labeling. His diplomacy with Wal-Mart leaders actually reversed that giant American giant retailer’s decision not to sell wild Alaska fish, and he is currently trying to re-institute some form of the J-1 Visa program that allowed Alaska fish processors to hire foreign workers when they can’t find enough Americans to do the job.
If Begich continues to chair the Fisheries Committee, Alaskans will have a voice in federal decisions affecting their fisheries during the upcoming Magnuson-Stevenson Fisheries Act reauthorization process, Croes said. The senator wants the act to include new measures that reflect the increasing effects of global climate change on Alaska’s fisheries. Begichs’ subcommittee chairmanship enabled him to see that a new ice breaker was built for the Coast Guard, which attendee Jerry Picket appreciated.
“(Mark Begich) supports the Coast Guard, and he has done an awful lot for the Coast Guard, said Picket, a longtime coast guard veteran. “He’s given us an icebreaker that’s been laid up, and he will get a second ice breaker that’s laid up, that’s why I support him.”
It was no surprise that the crowd that came to the meet and greet Tuesday were already supporters
“I think he’s doing great,” said Kenny Blatchford, who chairs the Mount Marathon Native Association. “He’s doing excellent for native issues. One of the main things that most of us Alaska Natives are is Democrats, and he knows that.” Blatchford also appreciates the senator’s work to date on behalf of the fisheries, and subsistence fishing, but hopes that he will focus attention on the 200 mile fishing limit, which is preventing the traditional subsistence harvests of King salmon, and on fostering economic development in Bush Alaska.
Mary Daniel said she appreciated Begich’s efforts to get rid of a loophole in the Social Security program that eliminated the ability of retired state workers to receive social security payments although they had already paid into that system.
“It’s extremely important in Alaska to have fish, and he’s been an awesome advocate for natural salmon against Frankenfish, and for the protection of our fisheries,” said Griffen Plush, a local student who has not quite attained voting age. “I thought that he had a lot of great things to say about the state and the problems that we’re facing.”
Note: Seward City News does not endorse political candidates.