In a three-way race for governor this fall, Democratic Party candidate Mark Begich said he sees himself as the only person running who’s looking ahead.
“I think what’s missing in this election cycle, honestly, was the lack of talk about where we were going to be 10 years from now in Alaska — the vision,” he said in an interview last Thursday.
He also offered some moderate-Democrat wisdom for dealing with President Donald Trump: coddle him the way he dealt with former Gov. Sarah Palin. Handle the policy with junior officials and let the leader get the glory.
“Here’s the deal with Trump. You always have to know one thing about him: he’s always looking for a deal and who gets the press,” he said. “(Trump and Palin) are almost replicas in that sense.”
“If there’s a score that can be made that’s good for Alaska and he can be the guy cutting the ribbon, what do I care?” Begich asked.
Begich, 56, a former U.S. senator and Anchorage mayor, visited Homer on July 26 for a morning meet-and-greet at Captain’s Coffee, another town hall at Alice’s Champagne Palace that night, a visit with members of Citizens AKtion Network, and interviews with Chris Story on his Alaska Matters radio show and the Homer News.
The only Democratic Party candidate for governor, Begich faces Gov. Bill Walker, running as an independent, and the winner of the Republican Party primary, most likely either former Alaska Senator Mike Dunleavy or former lieutenant governor Mead Treadwell. Several minor GOP candidates also are running, as is a Libertarian Party candidate, William Toien. Dunleavy is favored to win the Republican nomination. Walker, who won election in 2014 as an independent with Democratic Party running mate Byron Mallot, had considered running for the Democratic Party nomination, but when Begich announced at the last minute, Walker switched to an independent-only run, creating a three-way race in the general election.
“I had to make the calculation that if I decided to get in, I not only could win in a two-way, I could win in a three-way,” he said.
With two moderates running against a conservative, some say that Walker and Begich will split the vote and Dunleavy will win. Begich said most polls show him first or second behind Dunleavy.
“The first thing I’d say, in a three-way race for U.S. Senate, Lisa Murkowski won with 39 percent — and you had to write in her name,” Begich said.
For people who tell Begich they’re concerned about Dunleavy winning, Begich asks them, “Who do you think will be a better governor for what you believe in? Almost 80 percent of the time they say, ‘Well, you would,’” Begich said. “I say, ‘Then vote that way. If you vote that way, I win in a landslide.’”
Besides, elections shouldn’t be about who you don’t want to win, Begich said.
“I’m tired of voting against people,” he said. “Is that our new mantra? Who is not the worst? That’s who we’re going to pick? … People have a choice. They could see something positive and something to vote for.”
Usually, statewide candidates tout their capital city experience as a virtue. Begich says his lack of a Juneau pedigree sets him apart.
“Between Dunleavy and the governor, I consider all of them the same thing,” he said. “ … I bring a fresh and different approach.”
Dunleavy and Walker have been so focused on the budget and fiscal crisis, they’ve lost the larger perspective, Begich said. “They’ve gotten so mired in that they’ve forgotten the rest of the state.”
A pragmatic moderate, Begich said he favors meeting people of all political backgrounds and figuring out how they agree.
“There is a common thread that binds all of us in Alaska,” he said. “We may differ in our approaches, but we’re all here for a reason.”
“…That’s what’s missing in Juneau,” he said. “They get hyper partisan, and then they say they’re not hyper partisan, but they are. No one’s calling them on it.”
Last Friday, Begich released his plan for addressing Alaska’s rising crime rate. His plan includes addressing substance abuse and the opioid epidemic, increasing revenue sharing to towns to fund public safety, fully staffing Alaska State Troopers and Department of Corrections positions, partnering with federal prosecutors and increasing public safety in rural Alaska.
The Alaska Legislature got it wrong with the infamous Senate Bill 91 reforms, Begich said. While trying to divert lesser offenders out of the prison, SB 91 failed because it didn’t fund mental health treatment. And if it had, there weren’t enough social workers, he said.
That’s the problem with a single-solution approach. It doesn’t look at all the facets of an issue, Begich said. Anchorage is hiring more police, but then the courthouse is closed a half day a week to reduce its budget. Understaffed, the prisons shift officers working in rehabilitation to security.
On addressing domestic violence and violence against women, Begich said Alaska has to have a cultural shift in attitude like it did with tobacco use and drunk driving. That came about with changing attitudes of youth.
“If we’re serious about it, we have to figure out what’s happening with young people today,” he said. “…I don’t think we have the answer yet.”
In an anecdote he told, Begich hinted at one approach. As a former apartment manager of low- and middle-income units, Begich said he saw domestic violence frequently. When he was in his 20s, he saw a man in a parking lot assaulting a woman partner. Begich confronted the man. The man told him to get lost. Begich went into his house, called 911 and got his handgun. He went back out and told the man “We’re going to have a conversation here. This is going to stop.” The police came and arrested the man and Begich helped the woman connect with a women’s shelter.
“Green Dot,” said Liz Downing, a Democratic Party activist who sat in on the Homer News interview.
Downing explained the Green Dot idea, where red dots on a map show incidents of violence and a green dot is an act of intervening to stop violence. That can be done creatively through distraction or directly, as Begich did.
When asked how, if he were governor, he would work for Alaska issues with Trump, Begich offered his own experience as Anchorage mayor working with Palin.
“Trump is like Sarah Palin on steroids,” Begich said. “Credit is the game; policy is secondary.”
With Palin, Begich said he learned that policy didn’t matter to her.
“What was going to make a difference was ‘Can I do something that is going to be good policy, but she gets to be there for the ribbon cutting?’ I can tell you story after story I did that with her, and it worked all the time.”
It doesn’t do any good to take on Trump at his own game, Begich said.
“That’s too much noise, too much other stuff. Play this lower end, find the right people,” he said.
Begich would work the same way with Alaska Republicans.
“We’re going to have to work together. We’re going to have to find that common ground,” he said. “…Pick up the phone. Be bold about it. Let them beat on you if they want. … If they want credit because it’s beneficial to the state, what do I care? You get it done.”
The Alaska Primary Election is Aug. 21. The general election is Nov. 6.