Archive for the ‘Alaska politics’ Category

Et tu, Begich?

Weekly Clips May 16, through May 30, 2013

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-AK

Et tu, Begich?

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.


Zuckerberg’s Big Step Into Politics Is Pushing Tech Friends Away

San Francisco Gate: Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s bipartisan political organization is losing friends.

The group backed by technology millionaires and billionaires, called, began advocating in April for changes to U.S. immigration law. Within weeks, 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 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 risks diluting the strength of and sapping energy from organizations seeking to promote the bill’s passage.


High Stakes


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 in an April 11 essay in the Washington Post, Zuckerberg wrote that 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, isn’t required to reveal its donors and is limited in the amount of political work it can do. lists 36 founders and major contributors on its website, without disclosing how much money they’ve given or the group’s total budget.


Political Background


The backers are a who’s who of the digital age. Among them: Microsoft Corp. chairman Bill GatesLinkedIn Corp. executive chairman Reid HoffmanNetflix Inc. chief executive officer Reed HastingsYahoo! 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 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.


Tested Strategy


The Graham ad reflects a time-tested political strategy, said Haley Barbour, an adviser to’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 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,’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.


Silicon Outrage


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

Venture capitalist Vinod Khosla has more sharply criticized, 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 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.


Limbaugh Ads


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 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’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 have banded together to criticize through a Facebook page and Twitter account.


Tumblr Dance


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,” 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


To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at



Categories: Alaska politics Tags:

Sarah Palin Poll Shows Former Gov. Would Narrowly Lead Primary for Senate

Weekly May 2 2013 through May 16, 2013

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-AK

Begich says military plans Alaska training

Alaska Journal of Commerce: May-June 2013: Military exercises that bring thousands of personnel to interior Alaska were cancelled for budget reasons this year but U.S. Sen. Mark Begich says a smaller version could take place in late summer.

Begich tells the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner ( that he’s “fairly certain” a Red Flag Alaska training mission could take place at Eielson Air Force Base with four countries participating.

Begich says he’s optimistic the training session will take place based on conversations with Alaska Command Air Force Lt. Gen. Stephen Hoog.

A spring version of Red Flag Alaska was cancelled, as was Northern Edge, a multi-branch summer exercise.

Begich says the smaller Red Flag Alaska is scheduled for August and likely will include units from South Korea and the Philippines.


Bloomberg Gun Control Group Ignores Democratic Appeal for Leniency

News Max: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg apparently is ignoring an appeal from Democratic leaders to back off his advertising campaign targeting senators who voted against expanded background checks for gun sales.

According to Politico, aides to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid met recently with officials at Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns to warn them that targeting vulnerable senators who voted against the gun control measure could backfire on efforts to keep the Senate from falling into Republican hands.

The message, it seems, was not received.

The group plans to put up ads soon against Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor, Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, and North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, who, along with Montana Sen. Max Baucus, were the only Democrats to vote against the background check amendment, reports Politico.

Baucus was to be targeted as well by the Bloomberg group, but has announced his retirement next year.

The group also plans to dispatch 60 field organizers to other states whose Republican senators voted against the amendment under pressure from the National Rifle Association.

Democratic leaders are particularly worried about Pryor’s campaign. The Bloomberg group plans to direct its ads at Arkansas’ African-American community, “without which Mark Pryor doesn’t have a prayer of getting re-elected,” said Mark Glaze, director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

Except for the gun vote, Pryor has supported President Barack Obama and Democratic leaders on other issues like Obamacare and banking reform, and Reid, according to Politico, needs him for immigration votes.

Democratic leaders would prefer the Bloomberg group redirect his campaign against Pryor, Begich, and Heitkamp to back Democrats who supported the background checks bill, but are facing tough re-election bids in states that lean Republican. They note that Americans for Responsible Solutions, a gun-control group financed by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, is trying to help lawmakers who backed the background check amendment keep their jobs.

They point to radio ads funded by Giffords’ group that praise Democratic Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina, as well as Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. All three vote for the legislation, despite a threat from the NRA to campaign against them.

In addition to Bloomberg’s group, the White House has also signaled its intention to work against senators, including Democrats, who voted against background checks.

“They are learning that Newtown really did shock the conscience of the nation and that inaction will not be tolerated by Democrats, Republicans or independents,” Vice President Joe Biden wrote in a weekend op-ed piece for The Houston Chronicle.


Liberal Groups Boycott Facebook Over Conservative Ads

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Facebook is facing backlash from liberal groups upset with ads made by founder Mark Zuckerberg’s group promoting backers of immigration reform., which Zuckerberg was instrumental in forming as a means to back immigration reform, has two divisions that support Democrats and Republicans who have backed the effort.

The ads for Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Democratic Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska are critical of Obamacare and promote oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the building of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Latest: Do You Support Giving Illegals Citizenship? Vote Here Now 

Now groups including, the Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters, and Progressives United say they will pull their advertising from Facebook or delay buying new ads for two weeks in protest, Politico reports.

“Leaders in the technology community have every right to talk about how immigration reform will benefit their businesses,” said former Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., the founder of Progressives United.

“But instead, has chosen a strategy that’s condescending to voters and counterproductive to the cause of reform.”

The ads ran on the air for one week, but are still on the web.

Progressives United spokesman Josh Orton said the group is just trying to send a message.


Alaska Democrats Endorse Senator Mark Begich

KTUU: May 9: Alaska Democrats have endorsed U.S. Sen. Mark Begich for re-election.

The endorsement is somewhat unusual in that the party typically doesn’t announce its support for any one candidate in a primary.

Party spokesman Zack Fields says the party can endorse in limited circumstances. He says Alaska Democrats felt it important to get their support for Begich on the record early, given the flood of outside money that’s expected in the race.

The primary is scheduled for August 2014.

It’s not clear if any other Democrats will run.

Begich is in his first term, and Republicans Joe Miller and Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell have said they’re considering a challenge to him.

Gov. Sean Parnell last week announced plans to seek re-election rather than seek the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate.


Begich Leads Effort to Send Tough Message to Pentagon on Domestic Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Request

Alaska Native News: May 10: Responding to concerns from Fairbanks residents and determined to prevent wasteful spending, U.S. Senator Mark Begich introduced a resolution today stating the Senate will not support the requested 2015 and 2017 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) rounds at this time.

The resolution sends a clear message to the Department of Defense about the Senate’s opposition to BRAC and the expectation that the Pentagon will reduce costs and achieve efficiencies overseas.

“When I visited Fairbanks last week potential BRAC losses at the Interior’s military installations was the number one concern on people’s minds,” said Begich. “This resolution sends a clear message to the DOD that their request for 2015 and 2017 domestic BRAC is neither affordable nor feasible at this time. DOD needs to further consolidate overseas infrastructure and bring home missions before they even consider another request for domestic BRAC authority. Alaska is strategically positioned to accommodate those missions from overseas yet still allow the Pentagon to rapidly deploy our troops.”

Senator Begich was joined by Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Max Baucus (D-MT) who are co-sponsors of the resolution.

The resolution concludes that the Senate does not support granting the DOD authority for the requested 2015 and 2017 Base Realignment and Closure rounds; expects the Department of Defense to first achieve economic efficiencies by closing and consolidating excess infrastructure and facilities in overseas locations and explore the feasibility of relocating missions and assets back to the United States; and concludes the Department of Defense is unwise to request a BRAC round when our nation’s economy is struggling to recover and communities are struggling to put people back to work.

“It’s common-sense to close unneeded military bases overseas,” Tester said. “Decisions about our overseas military bases haven’t kept pace with our national security priorities, today’s technology or our budget realities, and that’s why the Defense Department should reassess the amount we are spending on overseas basing.”

“Everyone knows we’ve got to tighten the belt on spending wherever we can. But it’s just plain common sense that before we think about closing military bases here at home – and jeopardizing jobs that depend on them – we need to take a closer look at operations overseas,” Baucus said.

“Congress rejected the BRAC requests in 2013 and will continue to reject that request in 2015 and 2017 until DOD better evaluates potential closures and realignments abroad,” said Begich. “The DOD has 666 military sites in foreign countries around the world. Overseas bases are the most expensive to operate—we should be looking for consolidation outside the United States and relocation of missions back to the states before we consider closures and realignments in the United States.”


Sarah Palin Poll Shows Former Gov. Would Narrowly Lead Primary Field For Alaska Senate

Huffington Post: May 13: Sarah Palin would have a narrow edge in the GOP primary to challenge Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) in 2014, according to a poll whose sponsors hope to draft her for the race.

Palin would take 32 percent of the primary vote, followed closely by Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell at 30 percent, according tothe Republican firm Harper Polling. Joe Miller, the Tea Party-backed Republican nominee in 2010, would take 24 percent.

The survey was conducted for the Tea Party Leadership Fund, which hopes to see Palin declare her candidacy in the Senate race. In April, the group sent supporters an email with the subject, “Do the words ‘Senator Sarah Palin’ excite you?”

The draft effort is unofficial, however, and Palin hasn’t publicly expressed interest in running. Tim Crawford, the treasurer of her political action committee, told U.S. News in a statement that the PAC had nothing to do with the email.

Treadwell and Miller, both of whom have formed exploratory committees, are far more likely candidates. Without Palin in the mix, Treadwell would lead Miller by 19 points, 45 percent to 26 percent.

The winner will face Begich, who narrowly defeated longtime incumbent and former Sen. Ted Stevens in 2008. A February poll by the Democratic firm PPP found Begich leading Miller by 28 points, Palin by 16 points and Treadwell by 8 points.

The Harper poll used automated phone calls to survey 379 Alaska Republicans on May 6 and 7.


Red-State Senators Confident in Immigration Reform Passage

Wall Street Journal: Micahel Hickins: Senator Mark Begich (D-Alaska) told CIO Journal Monday he believes “the Senate will come out with a bipartisan [immigration reform] bill.” But he has not committed himself to supporting the bill unless it also strengthens border security, and includes a “meaningful and responsible pathway to citizenship.”

Senator Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), in a separate interview Monday, also predicted passage but refused to commit himself to supporting it until the bill, with its amendments, is sent for a full vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Ideally, he said, the bill should reflect a broad consensus and gain passage with “north of 70 votes.”

Immigration reform is a priority for businesses looking to expand the number of non-U.S. workers they can hire, notably for jobs requiring strong technology skills. The bill has been in “mark-up” since last week, giving Judiciary committee members a chance to offer amendments. The process is expected to continue Tuesday. Senators of Republican-leaning states such as Alaska and Arkansas are facing pressure from conservative groups on immigration reform, and both Mr. Begich and Mr. Pryor are running for reelection in 2014 in states where immigration reform is largely unpopular. A broad bipartisan bill would doubtless help both senators defend votes in favor of the bill.

Mr. Pryor said immigration reform is “long overdue” but said his support for the bill is contingent on it containing enforcement processes. Mr. Pryor said he has read the summary of the bill, but not the entirety of the proposed measure, which he said is 800 pages long. He said he’ll read it in its entirety once the final bill reaches the Senate floor, and will decide whether to support it based on “how it’s all going to work in the real world.”

Separately, Mr. Begich also cited enforcement as a prerequisite for his support for the measure. As the WSJ’s Sara Murray reported last month, approximately 40% of undocumented workers in the U.S. arrived legally under visas that have since expired.

As CIO Journal reported, the cap for high-skilled worker applications was reached faster this year than any time since 2008. The government has recently pursued a number of cases against outsourcing companies, notably Infosys Ltd. , which is accused of bringing in workers with fraudulent documentation.

Mr. Pryor said any reform should consider job categories in different lights; “I’m not sure there’s a need” to raise the number of work visas for construction workers and said “we need a cap on H1-B visas” overall. He said reform should reflect a difference between white collar jobs and blue collar jobs, which he said are affected differently by immigration reform. “Technology is the white collar part of the immigration question,” he said.

Mr. Begich said immigration reform would not only help companies fill jobs that are currently open, but encourage foreign students educated in the U.S. to “build their companies here… [and] invest in the country and grow the economy.”

Mr. Pryor credited New York Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) for trying to develop a broad consensus over the bill. “I don’t want to see a party-line vote,” he told CIO Journal. He said the bill is dividing the Republican caucus in Congress because while many social conservatives oppose reform, “the business community is in a very different place.”

According to a recent article in the National Review, only 32% of Alaskans and 24% of Arkansans, respectively, support a version of the bill along the lines favored by Sen. Schumer and the so-called Gang of Eight.

The meetings were hosted by Harley Lippman, CEO of Genesis 10, a technology services and domestic outsourcing company based in New York. Mr. Lippman says he supports immigration reform, but is skeptical that U.S. businesses won’t be able fill technology jobs unless H1-B visa caps are raised.



Categories: Alaska politics Tags:

Tracking Mark Begich March 7 to 21

Weekly Clips from March 7, 2013 through March 21, 2013

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-AK

Photo: Begich watchers

Juneau Empire: April 5: Erin Shine, left, Yasmine Habash, center, and Debra Higgins, all staff to Rep. Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage, watch as Alaska Sen. Mark Begich arrives for his annual speech to a Joint Session of the Legislature on Monday.


Debate over Alaska Native voting may be a preview of 2014 Senate race

Alaska Daily News: March 10: The sparring over whether U.S. Sen. Mark Begich was correct in his assertions last week that the Parnell administration and some legislators seek to suppress Native voting may foreshadow a larger battle in the 2014 election.

That conflict would follow a story line of the 2012 presidential election: Did some Republican-governed states attempt to place roadblocks in front of traditional Democratic voters, such as the elderly and minorities, to tip the field in favor of Mitt Romney? That question ended up in several courts before the November election and was seized as an issue by President Barack Obama’s supporters.

And now the issue appears to be coming to Alaska.

In his annual address to the Alaska State Legislature on Monday, Begich said he and other Alaskans were concerned “about recent trends in our state making voting more difficult,” especially for Alaska Natives and the growing Hispanic communities. He criticized the administration of Gov. Sean Parnell for trying to get a section of the U.S. Voting Rights Act declared unconstitutional, as well as legislators who are backing a bill to impose new identification requirements for voters, such as a photo ID.

Begich’s speech was soon followed by a statement from the author of the voter ID bill, Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, that he was “shocked” that Begich could conclude his measure would make it harder to vote for rural residents, whom the state even allows to drive without picture identification.

Two days later, Alaska Elections Director Gail Fenumiai asked Begich to correct “two misconceptions” in his talk and denied that the state’s two-prong legal attack on the 1965 U.S. Voting Rights Act was an assault on minority voters.

“I strongly dispute your assertions that the division makes it more difficult to vote here or that the state has imposed any obstacles to voting,” Fenumiai wrote in a letter to Begich released by her staff.

Begich answered that he “stands firm” on the points in his speech and that rural Alaska Natives had come to depend on the Voting Rights Act “to protect themselves from barriers at the ballot box.”

An Alaska Democratic Party official followed up with examples backing Begich, citing attempts by the Elections Division to shut down village polling places and to fail to provide assistance to speakers of Yup’ik and other Native languages until ordered by a federal judge in Anchorage. That case, before U.S. District Judge Timothy Burgess, a George W. Bush appointee, only concluded in 2012.

“This is really an issue of national importance,” said the official, Zack Fields, communications director for the state Democratic Party. When voting is less restrictive, he said, Democrats do better.

Republicans say that when voter identification rules are lax, ballot fraud becomes a problem.



The 2014 election holds big stakes in Alaska. Begich, a Democrat in a Republican-leaning state, is up for re-election, a race that could determine whether Democrats keep control of the U.S. Senate. While centrist Democrats like Begich have shown they can win a statewide election here, the contests are usually close.

Republican Gov. Parnell is also standing for re-election — unless he chooses to run against Begich. Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, the state’s top election official, has already announced that he is exploring a run against Begich.

The Alaska Redistricting Board, which remade the legislative map for the 2012 election, is under orders by the Alaska Supreme Court to redraw at least some districts by 2014. Under the 2012 map, Democrats ended up with small minorities in both houses of the Legislature, and two Native legislators and the sole African-American legislator were replaced by whites.

Most of the issues related to Native voting — the village poll closings, voter identification, preserving legislative districts where enough voters are Native that they would have strong influence on the outcome, election material made available in indigenous languages — are tied to protections under the Voting Rights Act. Alaska is one of nine states — most are in the South — that are subject to Justice Department supervision under Section 5 of the act. That means that any change to voting procedures must be cleared by the Justice Department before it can be implemented.

Native American Rights Fund Attorney Natalie Landreth, a specialist in the Voting Rights Act in Anchorage, cited the example of the small Prince William Sound village of Tatitlek, where in 2008 the Division of Elections proposed to shift its polling place 33 miles away to Cordova. No road connects the two communities.

Fenumiai, the election official, said the division proposed the Tatitlek consolidation and others were proposed because of the difficulty in finding poll workers.

“Every election cycle we struggle to find poll workers in those communities, even reaching out to the tribal council offices for names and not getting any success there,” she said. The division alerted the Justice Department to the change, and said it would accommodate the villagers with absentee ballots.

The Justice Department responded with a “MIR” letter — more information requested.

“It would’ve taken the division a very long time to answer that and we were butting up against the election, so we just made the choice to withdraw the request,” Fenumiai said.

To Landreth, that was one of many examples of how Section 5 helped villagers, assuring them of the same fundamental voting rights held by urban residents. To the state, it was an example of federal interference.

The Parnell administration is fighting the Voting Rights Act on two fronts. It has joined a challenge to Section 5′s constitutionality brought by Shelby County, Ala., next door to Birmingham, where the infamous Public Safety Commissioner Bull Connor loosed police dogs and fire hoses on unarmed demonstrators in the 1960s — a direct cause of the civil rights legislation that followed. And it filed its own lawsuit in Washington, D.C., seeking an order removing the state from Section 5 oversight.

“Section 5′s preclearance requirement is onerous and time-consuming, creates uncertainty and delay, and places Alaska’s elections at the mercy of Department of Justice attorneys in Washington, D.C.,” the state said in its complaint. “Alaska cannot make the smallest change to its election procedures, even those that do not affect minority voting, without prior permission of the Department of Justice.”

The Voting Rights Act would likely prevent Rep. Lynn’s voter ID bill from ever becoming law in Alaska, as long as Section 5 remains intact, Landreth said.



Before the current legislative session began, Lynn, the chair of the House State Affairs Committee, had vowed to hear the bill as one of his committee’s first orders of business. Nearly two-thirds through the session now, that hasn’t happened. The Supreme Court will decide the Shelby challenge by the end of its term in June, so the legislature will know whether Section 5 still exists in its 2014 session, in time to pass the bill before the election.

Lynn’s bill would require a photo ID to vote — the first time Alaska has had such a requirement. The bill says a voter could also use two pieces of non-photographic evidence, such as an original or certified birth certificate or a government license. That replaces the current identification requirement, which allows for a single form of identification that could include a bank statement, utility bill or government or payroll check showing the name and address of the voter.

In his speech to the Legislature, Begich said that requirement would disenfranchise elderly village voters, including the grandparents of two of his staff members. They’ve never gotten an ID, he said. “I’m going to tell you right now, they’re not getting one. But they vote, and they participate in their villages.”

Begich also accused the Parnell administration of opposing Native language ballots.

Fenumiai responded that the division currently provides assistance to speakers of several Native languages as well as Tagalog for voters from the Philippines living in Kodiak, and Spanish.

But the division and the city of Bethel were sued by the Native American Rights Fund and the American Civil Liberties Union for failing to provide language assistance in the Bethel region. The Elections Division lost that case, first under a temporary restraining order issued by Judge Burgess in 2008, and then the final order in 2010.

Until the lawsuit, Fenumiai said, “The division never realized or was told that there were any problems or issues with the language assistance that was being offered.”

Landreth said there are still language access problems in rural Alaska that have yet to be resolved. \


Begich to Bureau of Land Management: Stop Lollygagging on Legacy Wells

Alaska Native News: Sen. Mark Begich pressed the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to step up their measures to plug legacy wells and requested that Bud Cribley, BLM Alaska state director, formally and personally reassure Alaskans that BLM has a workable plan for the wells.

“I trust you are well aware of the widespread desire in Alaska to see these legacy wells addressed as soon as possible,” stated Sen. Begich in his letter. “Given that pressure, what options are available to your agency to expedite the FHPA review for all the wells at one time? What resources are available to your office to move the review quickly and at the least cost to taxpayers?”

Sen. Begich pledged to assist BLM while making it clear that the agency was ultimately responsible for clean-up efforts. “While I stand ready to assist from my position on the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, Alaskans expect better results on the legacy well issue than they have seen to date,” stated Begich.

The full text of the signed letter can be read here.


Begich Takes VA to Task for Inefficiency, Failure to Deliver Benefits

Alaska Daily News: At a hearing today of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (SVAC) U.S. Sen. Mark Begich grilled officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on the backlog of disability claims preventing veterans everywhere from receiving critical benefits they earned for their service in the U.S. military.

During the hearing, Begich highlighted the outdated and ineffective system by explaining that the most common request his office receives from constituents is to assist a veteran in claiming their benefits.

“Today’s hearing confirmed what I hear from veterans in Alaska every day – the VA is mired in paperwork, they don’t have a process to deal with it, and our veterans are paying the price,” said Begich. “This is totally unacceptable and I will be staying on top of the VA to make sure we get this bureaucratic mess straightened out and that our veterans get the benefits they have earned and deserve.”

Begich also pressed the VA to report back on moving electronic records between DOD and VA to cut down on wait time for service men and women transitioning out of the military.


Begich Calls Out National Democrats for Misguided Letter on Revenue Sharing, Arctic Development

Alaska Daily News: Senator Mark Begich took to the Senate floor on Wednesday to respond to a letter sent by eight senators to the Senate Energy Committee excluding Alaska from the oil and gas revenue sharing enjoyed by southern states along the Gulf of Mexico.

“I take exception to my colleagues—especially colleagues on my side of the aisle,” said Begich. “As this letter is laid out, it’s really just about opposing offshore development of any kind. These folks just don’t like oil and gas. That’s how I read it.”

Begich referenced the Alaska Adjacent Zone Safe Oil Transport and Revenue Sharing Act, the bill he introduced on January 31, 2013 to secure a share of federal revenues from offshore oil and gas development. These revenues would be directed to the State of Alaska and Alaska’s coastal communities in the same manner it is provided to Gulf Coast states from drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. It will provide support to state, local and tribal governments for public-sector infrastructure required to develop the resources, address the impacts in affected communities and, if necessary, respond in terms of emergency.

Additionally, Begich’s bill requires oil and gas from the Chukchi and Beaufort seas to be brought to shore through a pipeline. “The pipeline is safer than tanker transport and ensures future through-put for the Trans-Alaska pipeline that feeds this country.”

The measure breaks down stakeholder sharing by providing Alaska with 37.5% of the federal bonus bids and royalty share from any energy development, fossil or renewable. Of that 37.5%:

25% is directed to local governments;

25% is directed to Alaska Native village and regional corporations;

10% is directed tribal governments;

40% goes to the State of Alaska. The bill also dictates that:

15% of the federal share of royalties is directed to the Land and Water Conservation Fund

7.5% of the federal share is dedicated directly to deficit reduction.

The complete speech can be viewed in our video section.


Does Alaska have a voter fraud problem?

Alaska Dispatch: March 14:  A voter ID bill that drew sharp criticism from U.S. Sen. Mark Begich on his recent visit to the Alaska Legislature is moving forward, with its sponsor denying the senator’s claims about the bill.


Alaska voter ID proposal under fire in Legislature

Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, said his House Bill 3 was the victim of “misinformation” spread by Begich, D-Alaska.

“Nothing whatsoever in House Bill 3 prevents anyone from voting if they are registered and motivated to vote,” he said Thursday, while chairing the House State Affairs Committee hearing his bill. Those who don’t have photo ID can present other forms of identification or cast questioned ballots, he said.

Compared to a poll tax

Stricter voter ID requirements was the focus of Begich’s remarks – and his criticisms were reinforced at a hearing Thursday by Jeffrey Mittman of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska and Joy Huntington of the Tanana Chiefs Conference.

Mittman likened the cost of getting an ID to an unconstitutional “poll tax” that would likely be overturned, if challenged, in court. Begich has stood by his comments as well.

Huntington said she didn’t get a photo ID until age 20 when she got her drivers’ license. Before that, she only drove four-wheelers around the village. Many Native elders don’t have photo IDs either, she noted. But Elfin Cove’s Travis Lewis supported the bill, and said it was needed –even in his small Chichagof Island community. It wouldn’t make legitimate voting more difficult, he contended.

“I can’t imagine anyone in this day and age who doesn’t have proper identification,” he said.

Despite numerous comments saying there was no voter fraud problem to address, Lewis said he’d seen what looked like it in Elfin Cove.

“We have people from other states with voter registration cards who are voting in our community,” he said. Those people may well be voting elsewhere as well, he said.

Aimed at fraud

Supporters of the bill, such as co-prime sponsor Lynn, call the proposed regulation necessary to protect elections against the possibility of voter fraud.

“Even one case of voter fraud is one case too many,” said Forrest Wolfe, a member of Lynn’s staff.

Other committee members expressed skepticism that the bill’s goal was worth the risk it could inhibit legal voting.

Rep. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, said she was uncomfortable with the bill, even if it only disenfranchised the few people who got by without photo ID.

“It’s a handful of people in the state, but I don’t care if it is only one person, their vote has value and they shouldn’t be disenfranchised,” she said.

Vice-chair Rep. Wes Keller, R-Mat-Su, the bill’s other prime sponsor, urged the committee to pass the bill on to the Judiciary Committee, so questions about its legality and constitutionality could be addressed. He assured them that allowing it to pass out of committee was not an indication of support, though he did note that he personally supported it.

While some committee members expressed skepticism, only Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, said he was opposed, calling the bill an attempt to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.

“I feel it flies in the face of reality as far as there being an actual problem,” he said.

The move to Judiciary, the bill’s second and final committee in which it will be heard, may look much much like its first committee.

The bill’s two prime sponsors, Lynn and Keller, reverse their roles from House State Affairs when it goes to Judiciary. There, Keller is the chair and Lynn is the vice-chair.

Contact Pat Forgey at pat(at)



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