Weekly Clips May 16, through May 30, 2013
U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-AK
The Tundra Drums: ’ve been accused of growing up somewhat sheltered in terms of Alaska politics – I was raised in a little leftist bubble, you might say, that encompassed Bootlegger’s Cove, Chugach “Optional” Elementary School, and, that hotbed of young liberalism, Steller Secondary School.
I remember when then-city assemblyman Mark Begich visited the Steller auditorium to explain (somewhat sheepishly, I thought at the time) why he supported a new teen curfew inAnchorage. Begich, you see, was one of our own – Steller class of 1981 – so we all felt a little betrayed. It wasn’t that all teens were bad, I remember him saying, it was just that a curfew would let police officers stop the bad teens from being out late doing nefarious, perhaps gang-related, things. That would make everyone safer. If good teens were punished in the process, if the scope of what they were allowed to do was limited, that was just the unfortunate byproduct – basically, our freedom was being curtailed for everyone’s safety.
It was my first realization that even a sympathetic politician – even one of your own – will sometimes sell you out if it’s expedient for a higher goal. I was reminded of this when the votes on the Manchin-Toomey amendment came out.
I know Alaskans love their guns. We love our Second Amendment rights. In addition to being a red state overall, we have a healthy share of hunters, survivalists and Libertarian-minded individuals. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where we’d ever give up the right to possess enough firepower to hold off an invading army.
But many of the most ardent gun advocates also seem to think that if the FBI won’t let a person buy a gun at a shop due to, say, killing innocent people previously with guns, they shouldn’t be able to hit up a gun show with a credit card and brash impunity. That’s just inconsistent. It’s apparently not just my liberal bubble denizens that think so. A recent poll conducted by Public Policy Polling seems to indicate that many Alaskans – 60 percent, according to the poll – support expanded background checks.
That Lisa Murkowski voted the amendment down was no surprise. But Begich?
Begich, of course, is up for re-election soon, and I imagine he is feeling a little nervous about looking too blue for Alaska’s Republican-leaning constituents (not our majority, but the largest bloc of voters registered with any political party). When he spoke of his stance against the expanded background checks he said “there are common-sense things we can do to keep our communities safe, but we must do them without undermining our Second Amendment rights… Unfortunately the bill on the Senate floor today would have done just that.”
Perhaps Begich doesn’t believe he should vote yes on anything with even a whiff of gun control about it. Perhaps the NRA has him in their pocket. Perhaps he really believes what he says. Perhaps he’s just making sure that felons and the mentally ill retain their Second Amendment rights. I don’t know.
But when I was in high school, Begich told me that safety would have to be at the cost of freedom. Today, apparently, freedom must not be curtailed by safety. Both times I wondered what end he was working toward. It’s just the opposite, and more of the same.
Victoria Barber is the editor of the Anchorage Press, former editor of The Tundra Drums and the Seward Journal.
Tea Party’s Joe Miller: Off but running in Alaska
Juneau Empire: The controversial, ultraconservative Tea Party activist who upset Alaska’s Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the 2010 GOP primary, and then lost to Murkowski in the general election, has filed papers to run for the Senate in 2014.
Joe Miller has filed a Federal Election Commission form stating he intends to run against Democratic Sen. Mark Begich. Given Miller’s low poll ratings, that’s potentially very good news for Begich.
Controversial Tea Party-backed Alaska Senate candidate Joe Miller.
The form, disclosed in Politico, states that the Fairbanks-based Miller plans to run for the Senate as a Republican, and that Citizens for Joe Miller in his campaign committee. A more conventional Republican, Lt. Governor Sean Parnell (“lite governor” to the Alaska Ear column of the Anchorage Daily News) is also exploring the race.
Alaska is a very red state. Yet, its fractious Republicans have fought over control of the state party. Wasilla, Alaska, Mayor Sarah Palin upset incumbent Gov. Frank Murkowski in the 2006 GOP primary. In 2010, Palin supported Miller against Lisa Murkowski, who was appointed by her father to the U.S. Senate.
Miller imploded in 2010 when his controversial views became known. He wanted to phase out Medicare, privatize Social Security, wondered whether unemployment insurance was constitutional, and said he would not fight to bring federal dollars to Alaska. A reporter critical of Miller was detained against his will by the candidate’s “security” detail.
Miller is serving up the same old red meat. In an April letter to potential supporters, the Fairbanks lawyer declared:
“With the reelection of Barack Obama, our very way of self-government is in peril. Though I was labeled an ‘extremist’ by the likes of Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich for telling the truth, both of our sitting senators now routinely engage in such ‘extremist’ rhetoric with respect to federal overreach, government spending and entitlement reform.”
Murkowski staged a comeback in 2010, becoming the first U.S. Senate candidate in 54 years to win in a write-in campaign. Miller contested the write-in count every step of the way.
At least one Tea Party group has urged Palin to make the Senate race, prompting a wicked putdown from Sen. Murkowski, who implied that the 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate no longer lives in the state.
A Republican pollster, Harper Polling, found in a survey earlier this month that 49 percent of those polled had an unfavorable opinion of Miller, while just 34 percent had a favorable opinion. Seventeen percent had no opinion or had not heard of Miller.
Begich upset longtime (1969-2008) Republican Sen. Ted Stevens in 2008 by a 3,700-vote margin. Stevens had been convicted of federal charges, having to do with payment for a remodel on his Girdwood, Alaska, home. But the conviction was later vacated due to misconduct by Justice Department prosecutors. Stevens was later killed in a light plane crash near Bristol Bay.
San Francisco Gate: Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s bipartisan political organization is losing friends.
The group backed by technology millionaires and billionaires, called FWD.us, began advocating in April for changes to U.S. immigration law. Within weeks, FWD.us surprised some of its members by setting up partisan offshoots and airing ads promoting Democratic Senator Mark Begich’s support for oil drilling and RepublicanSenator Lindsey Graham’s backing of the Keystone XL pipeline.
It’s a strategy intended to give political cover to some senators who may support an immigration bill by reminding uneasy voters of the lawmakers’ other policy priorities. Yet the tactic angered some pro-environment donors and sparked a social-media campaign against Zuckerberg.
“The right way to accomplish political objectives is to argue issues on the merits,” Elon Musk said in a telephone interview. The billionaire co-founder of PayPal and chairman of electric carmaker Tesla Motors Inc. stopped participating with FWD.us earlier this month. “We want a political system that is less cynical over time, not more,” Musk said.
Technology entrepreneur Anil Dash, who declined to join the group, was more blunt, writing on his blog, “If we’re finally moving past our innocent, naive and idealistic lack of engagement with the actual dirty dealings of legislation, then let’s try to figure out how to do it without losing our souls.”
With the Senate planning to begin debate on immigration the week of June 10, the feuding with FWD.us risks diluting the strength of and sapping energy from organizations seeking to promote the bill’s passage.
The stakes are high, as the technology industry for a decade has sought more temporary visas for skilled employees, saying there aren’t enough qualified Americans to do such jobs as software engineering. Labor unions dispute that, arguing that Silicon Valley companies want to deflate wages by importing cheaper workers.
Introducing FWD.us in an April 11 essay in the Washington Post, Zuckerberg wrote that FWD.us would focus on immigration and also help on issues such as improving science, technology, engineering and math teaching in schools and increasing funding for scientific research.
As a social-welfare group, FWD.us isn’t required to reveal its donors and is limited in the amount of political work it can do. FWD.us lists 36 founders and major contributors on its website, without disclosing how much money they’ve given or the group’s total budget.
The backers are a who’s who of the digital age. Among them: Microsoft Corp. chairman Bill Gates, LinkedIn Corp. executive chairman Reid Hoffman, Netflix Inc. chief executive officer Reed Hastings, Yahoo! Inc. CEO Marissa Mayer andGoogle Inc. executive chairman Eric Schmidt.
Some of them are seasoned political contributors. Schmidt, for example, is a top donor to President Barack Obama and Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican and tech advocate.
Zuckerberg, 29, is newer to politics, having never written a check to Obama or any other federal candidate, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, based in Washington.
In April, the FWD.us offshoots spent more than $1 million on a trio of TV commercials which aired for about a week in home states of senators.
In one TV spot, Graham, a South Carolina Republican, says he wants to build the Keystone pipeline to transport tar-sands oil from Canada. In another, a narrator reminds viewers that Begich, an Alaska Democrat, wants to drill for oil in a wildlife refuge. Neither commercial mentions immigration.
The Graham ad reflects a time-tested political strategy, said Haley Barbour, an adviser to FWD.us’s Republican group and Mississippi’s former governor.
“It’s very appropriate to remind people of his judgment so that, as voters learn about immigration, they listen to him,” Barbour said in an interview. “It’s a proven concept, used in all kinds of advertising. And for good reason — it’s logical.”
Musk and another former FWD.us donor,David Sacks, who founded business networking site Yammer Inc., concluded otherwise and quit Zuckerberg’s group. Sacks declined to comment through Yammer spokeswoman Belinda Wong.
At the time those ads were airing, FWD.us’s Silicon Valley- based president Joe Green, was pitching other tech entrepreneurs for support. After having lunch with Green, Dash and Josh Miller, a founder of startup company Branch, both wrote online essays expressing their reservations.
The group’s approach, “though pitched as ’pragmatic’ and ’smart’ by Beltway insiders, is typically only practiced by large pharmaceutical companies, gun manufacturers, and the like,” Miller wrote in an essay posted to the website Buzzfeed.com.
Venture capitalist Vinod Khosla has more sharply criticized Fwd.us, asking May 5 in a Twitter message why the the group was willing to “prostitute climate destruction & other values to get a few engineers hired & get immigration reform?”
Keith Rabois, a partner at Khosla Ventures, is a contributor to Fwd.us. The company didn’t respond to requests for comment.
In addition to the Graham and Begich ads, Zuckerberg’s group is running radio and TV spots that emphasize the “tough” aspects of the immigration plan.
A minute-long ad airing now on the national talk-radio shows of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity begins: “Our immigration system is a joke, and the whole world knows it.”
It goes on to say that Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, andRepresentative Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, “are working on plans to change that. It all starts with real border security, more fencing, more manpower and high- tech surveillance.”
Of those ads, Rob Jesmer, the FWD.us campaign manager, said, “There’s a lot of conversation about immigration happening on talk radio. We’d be foolish not to get our message out over that medium.”
Opponents of FWD.us’s tactics recently started using some of the same social-media sites that made the group’s backers wealthy.
Some environmental and Democratic-leaning groups, including the Sierra Club,League of Conservation Voters, CREDO and MoveOn.org have banded together to criticize FWD.us through a Facebook page and Twitter account.
The coalition created a Tumblr last week to take aim at Mayer — whose company just purchased that micro-publishing outlet for $1.1 billion.
“We’d like this Yahoo! gif better, and do this dance, if Marissa Mayer dropped FWD.us,” the Tumblr concludes, showing a dancing animation.
“These are the people who should be helping us figure out how to have a better democracy, and yet they’re just using old, broken D.C. strategies,” said Becky Bond, political director of CREDO, a super-political action committee started by a mobile phone company. “They have built their careers on communities of millions of users. We just want to make sure those users know what they’re doing.”
–With assistance from Alan Ohnsman in Los Angeles. Editors: Jeanne Cummings, Robin Meszoly
To contact the reporter on this story: Julie Bykowicz in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at email@example.com