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Democrats Look to Anchorage Mayor

With a trio of stories today involving ethical allegations against Alaska Republicans, Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich's phone started ringing early with calls from Capitol Hill.

Begich, a popular mayor who won his second three-year term a year ago, is being courted to challenge one or the other of Alaska's longtime Republican incumbents, who have more than 73 years of combined congressional experience. He's the son of the late Rep. Nick Begich (D-Alaska), who died in a 1972 plane crash with the late Rep. Hale Boggs (D-La.), in a remote part of the Frontier State. Begich, now 44, was 10 at the time.

Facing a term limit in the spring of 2009, Begich is in a minor bidding war between the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee -- which wants him to challenge Rep. Don Young (R), who took his father's seat after the crash -- and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee -- seeking a challenger to Sen. Ted Stevens (R), 83, the longest-serving Republican in Senate history.

"He likes to laugh and say a lot of people have decided his future," Julie Hasquet, Begich's spokeswoman, said of the multiple calls the mayor has received this year from senators and House members.

But Democrats need to recognize the tall order of the challenge. Stevens has been enormously popular back home, spreading billions of dollars there in his three decades worth of work on the Appropriations Committee. He won his last election with nearly 80 percent. He had $664,000 in his campaign account on March 31 and he's rapidly adding to that war chest, with fundraisers like a 250-person event last Wednesday in Fairbanks. Stevens will have no trouble raising the millions of dollars necessary to swamp a challenger considering he is the top Republican on the Defense Appropriations subcommittee and the ranking minority member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

"We're still actively engaged in getting the campaign going," said Tim McKeever, Stevens' top political aide. "We're moving ahead full steam."

Young, who turns 74 Saturday, is slightly more vulnerable, based on recent performance. He won re-election with 57 percent against a challenger who spent less than $180,000. But a Begich challenge to Young would also require an enormous amount of money, since the incumbent spent more than $1.8 million in the 2006 cycle and STILL had more than $1.9 million in the bank March 31.

That's where the ethical questions come in, as both House and Senate Democrats secretly have their fingers crossed that either of the veterans would face so many allegations that one -- or, dream sequence, both -- would not stand for re-election.

In fact, House Democrats privately admitted that they placed a call to Begich today after a New York Times story questioned a $10 million earmark placed in legislation for a Florida transportation project after a developer held a $40,000 fundraiser for Young. (At the time, Young was chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.)

But Senate Democratic strategists also gleefully took note of my story in the Washington Post, in which Stevens acknowledged that federal investigators have asked him to secure records related to their widening corruption inquiry that has already secured indictments of four current and former state legislators and has entangled the senator's son, Ben Stevens, a state senator.

In addition, Roll Call (subscription required) reported an example of Ted Stevens steering earmarks to those close his son, including $2 million that went to study the route for a natural gas pipeline, conducted by a company whose parent corporation paid Ben Stevens nearly $80,000 in recent years as a board member.

It's unclear whether Young, who has ex-staff connected to imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff, or Stevens will face enough questions that they would not run for re-election. And neither man has been given official notice that they are officially a "target" or "person of interest" from the Justice Department, official designations used for people who are close to indictment or who are the focus of a probe.

Still, Democrats awoke this morning to see headlines they liked, which just made Begich that much more popular on Capitol Hill. "He's made no decision. He loves being mayor," Hasquet said. "Each day is a new opportunity."

By Paul Kane  |  June 7, 2007; 3:08 PM ET
Categories:  Ethics and Rules  
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Well what else do you expect from oil-state NEO-CON republicans BUT graft, corruption, lack of any ethics whatsoever, and totall support for the criminal administration of Bush/Cheney?


Posted by: JBE | June 7, 2007 3:36 PM | Report abuse

I agree send the neo cons to some remote island and let them have there own country.

Posted by: Ant | June 7, 2007 3:57 PM | Report abuse

Begich is popular in Anchorage, but it remains to be seen how popular he will be statewide. Don Young would seem to be the easier target...tho he is know as Uncle Don for his ability to bring home the bacon. Still it is really hard for even a very popular Dem to win in this overwhelmingly Repub state. Now maybe if the Rs nominate Rudi....

If either Don or Ted decide not to run, its a good guess that America's hottest Gov would get pressure to take a run at DC. And she would win in a landslide.

Posted by: WOW | June 7, 2007 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Last election the voters of Alaska rid themselves of one elected embarrassment and we now have a governor we can be proud of.

Perhaps in 2008 we can continue our streak and return the current congressional incumbents to private life. It's past time for a change.

Posted by: TGM | June 7, 2007 6:42 PM | Report abuse

Palin wouldn't likely pass on the governor's seat to run for Congress, but the Senate would be a likely target should Stevens step down (Stevens seems to be grooming her as a protege much as Domenichi has with Wilson in NM). Begich I think could easily take down Young, and may even had been able to in a chgallenge last time, and Young's popularity has only gone down since then (losing his status in the majority, the negative attention he's drawn, and the increasingly movement conservative nature of the Alaska Republican Party from its more traditional libertarian stances that made it so strong up to this point and from which he comes have all taken a toll). A greater influx of money and some intent on his part to reclaim his father's seat might be enough to convince Young now is the time to step aside, opening it up to a stronger Republican to take on Begich as the only way to hold the seat.

Posted by: Michael | June 7, 2007 8:38 PM | Report abuse

I worked on Nick Begich's campaign for Congress when I was in high school - late '60s. In the primary, Nick beat John Rader (the father of my current best friend) and went on to Congress. He died with Hale Boggs in a plane crash in southeast Alaska - The plane has never been found.

His wife, Peggy, tried several times to achieve statewide office on her own. She came up short. So she groomed her children for greater things, among them political office.

Mark Begich is no Nick Begich. His Mom failed to capture the interest of all Alaskans, my guess is he'll come up short, too. Alaska is a Republican state. Anchorage is an anomaly - shifting between the parties time and time again.

If Mark Begich runs for the U.S. Senate he'll likely face the same result that Tony Knowles did when he ran against Lisa Murkowski, the current junior senator from Alaska. He'll lose. Mark's a good guy but there's Anchorage and then there's the rest of Alaska. And they don't see things the same way.

Sometimes reality really does weigh in. Especially a place as extreme in its politics as Alaska. Sorry, Mark.

Mt. Lebanon, PA

Posted by: HLB Engineering | June 8, 2007 12:22 PM | Report abuse

First of all, the neo-con comment is ignorant. Go back to school.

Secondly, I am a died-in-wool progressive dem in Anchorage, and I voted for Begich. I won't make that mistake twice. His policies for residential development have decimated massive tracts of land with clear cutting (I have a personal connection because this happened immediately behind my hillside home) in order to build up the tax base, he has squandered public money on an ill-attended winter festival called Fur Rendezous. Facing declining attendence, Begich and other secured public money to hold the festival, which was as big a flop as years previous. He, along with several others in city hall, also secured a comlex financial deal involving public money to maintain/restore the "historic" 4th avenue theater, which voters turned down twice.

In the end, Mark is the lesser of evils in a state that gleans its revenue from the energy industry. I had high hopes for his second term, and he is certainly hand-over-fist better than previous mayors. But at the end of the day, he's a disappointment who won't get my vote.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 8, 2007 12:45 PM | Report abuse

I disagree with the previous comment from a fellow Alaska progressive.
Begich is incredibly talented, smart and capable. There's probably no better political proving ground in Alaska than the job of mayor of Anchorage -- that is, for future governors. The deal about being mayor is that, no matter how good you are, you are always going to be pissing somebody off, including (and maybe especially) your political allies. It's a very nuts-and-bolts, pothole-filling, results-oriented, on-the-ground type of job (as opposed to being in Congress, which entails mostly being a windbag), so there is no way that any hands-on mayor can please everybody. Any mistakes or missteps or difficult compromises are going to be seen and felt immediately by the public. Still, for all the challenges of his job and all the potential for pissing people off, Begich is very popular, with positives in the 70s, according to the latest polling.
But. . .my take is that I would rather see Begich become a future governor than squirred away in Congress.
Now, like others around here, I find Don Young thoroughly despicable. But there are other potential candidates to take him out besides Mark Begich. Consider: Ethan Berkowitz, Hollis French, Beth Kerttula and -- a longshot because she would have to be talked into leaving academia to return to politics -- former Lt. Gov. and current acting chancellor of UAA Fran Ulmer. Another longshot, and a possible "outsider" candidate would be Denise Michels, the first Native mayor of Nome. Some people have also mentioned Scott Kawasaki as a possible candidate for statewide office in the future.
And don't forget Jim Sampson -- former labor commissioner, former mayor of the Fairbanks North Star Borough and just ending his term as president of the Alaska AFL-CIO. A crusty old-time Alaskan who's great with the soundbite.
On the Republican side, Loren Leman is definitely interested in running for something, but he's too conservative and creepy even for Alaska, I think. A potential candidate who could be successful, I think, is state Sen. Gene Therriault -- also very conservative, but very ethical and someone who's established a reputation for standing up to the oil companies. Another potential Republican candidate is former Anchorage Mayor Rick Mystrom, a moderate Republican who, despite being not too far from Begich in political philosophy is really a big rival to him. Another Begich-Mystrom race would be interesting.
And don't forget Gov. Sarah Palin, she of the 90-percent approval rating, who is destined for something bigger in the future. But since Palin is not exactly beloved by the Republican establishment, I'm not sure how a Senate run would play out.

Posted by: alaskan | June 8, 2007 2:25 PM | Report abuse

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