Alaska Eyes 2014
The legislative session in Juneau has ended, and our elected officials have flown away from the carnage they either created, or endured.
The stalwart among us, the political junkies who don’t need to take time off to lick wounds, yell at clouds, or throw chairs, will begin to think of… 2014.
The courts have ruled that the redistricted map used for 2012 is not Constitutional. We literally go back to the drawing board to rework legislative boundaries. And the insanity will begin all over again.
But wait, that’s not all!
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
We’ve also got our one and only seat in Congress up on the block again. Will anyone dare to take on Don “we used to have 50 or 60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes” Young? Don “I’m under investigation by the feds yet again” Young?
About the closest political analogy you can get to running against Don Young is this scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. If you are running against him, you’ll be playing the part of the knight who brandishes his sword and says, “Rabbit stew, coming right up!” And if you are Don Young, you are of course, the rabbit.
Don Young has been in office since 1973, and the bones of many a noble knight lay strewn about his lair. And yes, he’s “only a little bunny” – a little awkward, bumbling, idiotic, bigoted, bunny who spews malapropisms and gaffes, and then bites your head off.
And then there’s the Senate race. Mark Begich (D) is up for reelection to his seat for the first time. He did the impossible. He ran a clean campaign against Republican Senator Ted Stevens who was, at the time, a seven-time convicted felon. Fate smiled upon the “boy senator” and he slipped through the door by the tiniest of margins. After he settled into his office in DC, an investigation into the Stevens trial found gross misconduct by the prosecution, and the charges were dropped. Stevens supporters like to say he was “acquitted,” but the truth is that the whole trial just went away, and we’ll never know what a properly conducted trial would have found.
Begich, to his credit, managed to rise above the screaming conservatives (including Sarah Palin) who called for him to step down. He was a duck, and it rolled off his back, as it should have. But the Republican Party had it sights set on Mark Begich from day 1. The GOP jackals were hiding in the brush. Salivating. Waiting for 2014. Tick, tock.
Here’s the problem for Republicans. Alaska seems to like their senators to be fairly “centrist,” if there can be such a thing. They had the chance to elect a true religious, conservative, libertarianish Jim DeMint devotee. And they didn’t do it. Joe Miller was the rightful Republican nominee the last time we elected a senator. And the fear and loathing was so strong, and Democrats and moderate Republicans were so terrified that they handed Lisa Murkowski a write-in victory. And I propose to you that if Lisa Murkowski had not run for reelection, we would not have Senator Joe Miller, Constitutional conservative. We would, in fact, have Senator Scott McAdams, Constitutional progressive, and Alaska would be represented by a double D senate team.
But, as it stands we have a moderate Republican Senator, and a moderate Democratic Senator. And each of them drives their base crazy. And they both drive anti-corporatist, anti-establishment voters crazy, both on the left and right.
Mark Begich found himself in an interesting position. Yes, he seemed to have snuck in to the vacuum left by Uncle Ted. But he won fair and square, and even if he had been running against a different Republican who was not a decades-long institution in the Senate, he still might have won.
“IF YOU WERE MARK BEGICH”
So, let’s play “If You Were Mark Begich” for a minute. Once in D.C., you could have played your first term in one of two ways.
First, you would dispassionately assess the situation, and realize that as a Democrat in a fairly red state that hasn’t elected a Democratic Senator since Mike Gravel (1969-1981), there’s a more than slim chance that you would only be in the Senate for one term, no matter what you did. Then, you’d have a decision to make, and you’ve got two general strategies.
With that one term, you would decide to be bold, and Alaska-focused, a populist and true to your party most of the time (because after all everyone knew you were a Democrat when they elected you). You could be strong on civil liberties and privacy rights, pro-choice, tough on oil companies and Pebble Mine, and strong but reasonable on the second amendment. You could prove to Alaska that you can be an Alaska-style progressive, and do good things for the state. If they see that the world hasn’t ended, and that you are working hard, they will vote for you again. And if your base feels you are strong where it counts, they will not only vote for you, they will knock doors, hang fliers, phonebank, and donate to you, even if others are running in downballot races the same year. They will do this because they like the idea of having a Democrat represent Alaska in D.C. It feels good on a cellular level.
And if the Tea Party crowd sees you’re strong on civil liberties, they might even rather vote for you than for a Lisa Murkowski Republican.
It would be a gamble, but if you lost, you’d know you did your best for six years.
With that one term, you will try your hardest to be a Republican. Not a Joe Miller Republican, more of a Lisa Murkowski Republican, who’s better on social issues. You’d be fairly moderate on those, but to counter the damage you feared from taking those positions, you would embrace the oil companies even as they rape the state financially. You’d embrace offshore drilling, even as the Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico spewed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. And you would embrace the NRA, even as dozens died in Aurora Colorado, and 20 children and six educators were gunned down in an elementary school. You would push yourself to be as red as you could possibly be, without actually becoming a Republican. Because, Republicans like you don’t survive primary challenges from the right. Just ask Lisa Murkowski.
And if you did these things, nobody but nobody would be able to call you a “liberal” or a “progressive.” If Democrats nationally hated you, and the President argued with you, and Michael Bloomberg was spending gobs of money against you, and your very own base was shrieking that you were a corporate Republican tool, then maybe you’d stand a chance to win over independents and moderate Republicans. You could wear those things like an Alaskan badge of honor. And your base would never vote against you. Because no matter who was running as a Republican, they’d be worse. And you are, above all, a pragmatist.
And you would throw your base some nice bones too. You’d be openly pro-choice, and good on labor issues, and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. You’d fight for things like social security to remind them about what the other side wants to do. You’d support Alaska Natives, and veterans, and the military. You are a politician, and you play a political chess game because you know how much worse it could be for Alaska, and the nation.
The Democratic bench is not deep, and the likelihood of a further-left Democrat running a viable primary challenge against you is slim. You roll the dice.
THE PROBLEM WITH THE STRATEGIES
You actually might not get reelected. You might be branded as a liberal, socialist, Obama-huggin’, Marxist, tax and spend treehugger. And some hideous fringy right-winger might actually get in, and be really, really bad. It’s possible.
The NRA might not support you. The oil companies might not support you as much as they might have, but they’ll support you just in case you win. They like to butter the bread on both sides.
But your base would love you. They’d knock doors, and donate, and do all those boots-on-the-ground things that people who respect someone who takes a stand do. Democrats across the nation would like you. You could appeal to PACs and others, and they’d care whether you were one of the 100 decision makers.
Be what your base wants you to be, stick with basic core principles that appeal to both sides, work hard and reap the benefits of populist support and boots-on-the-ground who are passionately committed to you.
In some ways you are more electable. Alaska has proved in the last senate race, that they like a moderate Republican. But, you will alienate your base. You vote against civil liberties (the NDAA) that might have endeared you to the libertarian crowd. You support without reservation offshore drilling, alienating you to the conservation crowd. You don’t take a stand on the proposed Pebble Mine project, which angers fishermen and environmentalists. And you stand against background checks for firearm purchases, even as the parents of slaughtered children stand in the Rose Garden, weeping.
But you stand up for women’s reproductive rights, and labor, and you stand up for Alaska Natives, and you stand up for social security.
But the NRA crowd isn’t going to support you. They’ll support the Republican running against you who will be just as pro-gun and anti-background check as you are. And the oil companies will donate to you, but they’ll also donate to the Republican running against you. And the Tea Party crowd isn’t going to vote for you. Nor are social conservatives.
And your base? Well, they’ll have nowhere else to go. They’ll have to vote for you or vote for someone they find even worse. So, they’ll likely fill in the oval no matter how mad they are at you. But they will not walk for you, donate to you, or phonebank for you. They will not be excited about you. Last time they were. So, you’ll have to hope that whoever runs against you is more like a Joe Miller than a Mead Treadwell, or a Sean Parnell. A Republican candidate that instills fear will be your friend in November.
Senator Begich has chosen the second way, for good or bad, success or failure.
HERE’S WHERE IT GETS INTERESTING
Joe Miller is now weighing another run for the Senate. Only this time, it’ll be against Mark Begich. A post on his website explains:
I have been a Republican for most of my adult life. But I am under no illusions about the Republican Establishment’s failure to confront the problems facing the country. The status quo is not a viable option.
Let’s be honest. The partisan frame of reference is outmoded. We now live under a duopoly which serves corporate and special interests, rather than the interests of the individual citizen. It’s the insiders versus the outsiders.
While many in my party prattle on and on about their desperate desire to “defeat Mark Begich,” that is not my singular object. Yes, Mark Begich is part of the problem in Washington. But for me, the 2014 election is not merely about beating Mark Begich. It’s about saving the country!
The corruption of the Republican Party in Alaska is not in question. We noticed it in 2006 when a full 10% of the legislature (all Republicans) were indicted for selling their votes to the oil companies. That taught the establishment GOP a lesson – next time, be sneakier about it. The need for a reformer on a white horse who was willing to clean Republican house is what brought us Sarah Palin. It could happen again.
Let’s assume that Miller wins the primary. Primary elections call out the hardcore ideological base, after all, and Miller is definitely a hard-core social conservative. And in Alaska, Democrats can’t pull a Republican primary ballot. This is why Joe Miller won the primary last time. It’s all about who is passionate enough to turn out. And this time, there is no moderate Republican already in the office he’s running for. There is no incumbent to run a write-in. This time it’s a Democrat. If Miller pulls off another primary victory, it’s Miller v. Begich, mano a mano.
And to listen to him, if he won, he’d take Strategy #1. Only, he’d be on the political right.
WHAT WILL ALASKANS DO?
Will the left’s and moderate Republicans’ distaste for Joe Miller’s politics inspire them to work hard for Mark Begich? Will they ignore the other down ticket races, and pound the pavement? Or will Miller rake in big bucks nationally, while the likes of Michael Bloomberg spend money to defeat Begich on principle because of his gun stance, regardless of whom he runs against?
Will Alaskans decide their limited campaign contribution dollars should go to Begich, or will they send them to legislative candidates, or a gubernatorial candidate, or to whatever white knight decides to take on the killer bunny that is Don Young?
A recent Public Policy Poll which was taken BEFORE the recent gun and background check legislation votes, showed that voters approve of Begich’s job performance by a wider margin, 49% to 39%, and independents (more than 50% of voters) approve of Begich 54% to 32%. Begich also gets approval from 24% of Republican voters.
And the direct question was asked:
If the candidates for Senate next year were Democrat Mark Begich and Republican Joe Miller, who would you vote for?
Joe Miller ……………………………………………….. 30%
Not sure …………………………………………………. 12%
So, it appears that no matter how the base feels, Begich may have played his cards well to secure reelection, although we do not know how the recent gun vote will affect voters in the long term.
It seems clear that Republicans of certain stripes will cross over and vote for Begich. But would Democrats cross over and vote for Miller? Even those who agree with him on his civil libertarian, election integrity, and anti-corruption stances will likely not be able to stomach his extreme position on social issues. Joe Miller is taking Strategy Option #1, Begich is taking Strategy Option #2, and this particular race is likely to be one of the most fascinating we’ve seen in some time.
FINGER ON THE PULSE OF THE LEFT (MOSTLY)
Anecdotal evidence is certainly not scientific, and the best numbers we have are from the PPP poll cited above. But I asked those on my own Facebook page to tell me what they thought about Mark Begich. Here was my direct question: