One of the tallest orders for all of Alaska’s three of congressional representatives is bridging the more than 3,500 mile gap between Washington D.C. and the 49th state. Senator Mark Begich says making the case for his agenda goes both ways, shoring up support here and in the capital.
“I come back every year to speak to the joint session [of the Alaska Legislature]," says Begich, "and that’s part of the process of trying to get them to focus on issues that are important from their perspective, obviously from Alaska’s perspective and how the connect to what we’re doing in Washington D.C.”
A lot of times that means convincing the state to kick in funds in a partnership with some federal programs, like investing in infrastructure that helped keep a fighter wing at Eielson Air Force base in Fairbanks.
“One of the most recent ones, I asked the state to consider $5 million for an unmanned aircraft research center," says Begich. "They did that; now we’re the number one research center being developed in the country.”
But, he says it’s not always as easy as that. Following the example of his predecessor, the late Senator Ted Stevens, he says sometimes those conversations with the legislature are more than a sales pitch.
“When I think they’re doing something that I think is just going to get us in trouble, for example this last session when they tried to dismantle education, that was a big mistake," says Begich. "Because the amount of money that we’ve been able to allocate to public education, for them then to dismantle it, sends the wrong message back to Washington.”
He says an instate gas line is another issue that politicos at the state level need to get figured out.
“You know, we’re at risk of potentially losing the [federal] gas line office here in Alaska because the state can’t get their act together on what is the right gas line," says Begich. "They need to make a decision because if we don’t we’re going to lose that coordinated office that works with us.”
But that frustration comes back the other way, too. Begich says decisions like the recent Supreme Court ruling about women’s contraception offends Alaskans’ libertarian streak.
“It’s kind of like dad coming in and telling them what to do," says Begich. "Oddly enough, five men made the ruling, so you can kind of see, once again, these five men are deciding what’s right for women’s health care and birth control and I think women are fed up with that.”
Even with the view that that particular federal act was intrusive, Begich is clear that there are times when federal agencies should have more of a role in local matters. He says if fishing groups, like the United Cook Inlet Drift Association, are calling for more federal involvement in fishing matters, it’s time to take notice. UCIDA is currently part of a legal process trying to shift more management responsibilities of Cook Inlet commercial salmon fisheries away from the state.
“This is an issue that has come up," says Begich. "The state has done a fair but not a great job, and now I’m hearing from fishermen on the recreational end, the commercial end and clearly the subsistence end that the state has in some cases failed them.”
Begich joins 11 other candidates on the August primary ballot, including Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell, former Senate candidate Joe Miller and former DNR Commissioner Dan Sullivan.
Begich made his comments on the Coffee Table, which aired on KBBI and KDLL.