Begich Arms for 2014
Senator Mark Begich (D) doesn’t toe the line every time Harry Reid whistles. And he’s certainly been a thorn in the side of Yellow Dog Dems, and caused much hair pulling and kicking of trash cans for progressive Alaskans, particularly in the area of resource development.
All that said, the Democrats in the Senate are a family, and even the wayward kid gets some TLC. Harry Reid knows, as do we all, that 2014 is going to be an interesting race for the Senate in Alaska. It will be Mark Begich (D) vs. any one of a long string of Republicans who’ve got napkins tied around their necks, clutching knives and forks.
Current Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell seems to be the odds on favorite for the opposition, although to be fair, he’s only the first to speak up by forming an “exploratory committee.” Governor Sean “Captain Zero” Parnell might also throw his hat in the ring. And then there are the Dan Sullivans (Mayor of Anchorage, and former AG/current DNR commish). The first Dan Sullivan seems unlikely at this point. Think of the opposition research team as hungry ravens, and the skeletons in the mayor’s closet as the large fries from Wendy’s.
Finally, let’s not forget the man who won the Republican nomination last time – Joe Miller. Ultimately defeated by a write-in campaign that put moderate Republican Lisa Murkowski back in DC for another term, Miller has not gone away. He’s maintained a web presence with his Restoring Liberty website, with lots of stuff about the fiscal cliff, and the economy, and another article entitled, “Michele Bachmann Says Obama Wants to ‘Lift Up the Islamists’ and Allow Sharia Law in America.” Miller no doubt feels if he’s motivated the base once, he can do it again, and that he might be luckier running against an actual Democrat than simply a different brand of Republican. He might be right.
The oil companies have a keen interest in this race. Don’t assume they want the R. They’d just as soon keep the state split in the Senate, so they’ve always got someone who can actually be effective and push their interests in the Capitol building. So, they’ve been airing sticky-sweet commercials about Mark Begich, and he’s been Shell’s best friend in their efforts to drill offshore in the Arctic. In the real world, this is the price progressives must pay to get someone who votes the right way on the other stuff. In Alaska, red and blue are both oily brown.
But oil’s not the only group that Begich has going for him. He’s definitely been a friend to women, to unions, to the military, the LGBT community, and to Alaska Natives who decisively handed him the rural vote in 2008.
So, mother hen Harry Reid wants to make sure little Mark goes to school with everything he needs. You can imagine Harry saying, “Mark, do you have your homework? Do you have your lunch? Do you have your backpack? Do you have your gym clothes? Do you have your glasses?” only you can replace all those things with committee assignments.
The idea, of course, is to make Begich useful to Alaska, influential in the areas Alaskans care about, and to make us feel that he’s irreplaceable – especially by the likes of some Tea Party-ish Republican. The fact that Democrats hold the majority in the Senate right now isn’t hurting things either. Since the nation is clearly more evolved than the Last Frontier i terms of party politics, it pays to have someone in power who plays for the ruling team.
So let’s go rummage and see what goodies have been stuffed into Mark Begich’s backpack as he heads into the fray:
He’s got four committee assignments in there – Commerce, Science and Transportation; Armed Services; Veterans Affairs; and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. Not bad. Alaska is chock full of active military folks, and veterans. Transportation is also good.
But wait… what’s this? There’s a new one in there! Look! It’s the Committee on Indian Affairs!
With almost half the tribes in the country located in Alaska, Sen. Begich’s appointment to the committee will allow him to expand on his long list of accomplishments, including protecting subsistence rights, investing in rural housing, jobs, and education, and strengthening and streamlining the role of the Indian Health Service (IHS) in delivering care to Alaska’s rural and tribal communities.
Since arriving in the Senate, Sen. Begich has negotiated agreements between Alaska Native tribal health organizations and the VA, allowing rural veterans to access health care in their home communities instead of traveling to Anchorage or Seattle. He introduced the Alaska Hero’s Card Act which would allow Alaska veterans to have the choice to access care from clinics and other treatment facilities close to home. His idea was recently mirrored in new IHS policy.
Alaska’s other Senator, Lisa Murkowski (R) also serves on that committee, but Begich’s majority party influence will be important, and will doubtless help to increase voter turnout from Native communities across the state who have much at stake.
On the Committee, Sen. Begich will play a key bipartisan role along with U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski in holding Congress accountable for its commitment to a strong and meaningful government to government relationship between tribes and the federal government.
“I’m very happy to hear that Senator Begich has secured a seat on the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee. Having a Senator in the majority and on the Indian Affairs Committee is a key leadership position not just for Alaska Natives, but also for Alaska as a whole,” said Edward Thomas, President of the Central Council of the Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.
It’s not only good for the Native people of Alaska and the rest of the country, it’s also a nice little piece of political strategery. Well played, Harry Reid.