Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Why is Mark Begich Running For Governor? Tom Begich Explains

Like a lot of people, apparently, I was surprised and concerned when Mark Begich threw his name into the Governor's race.  A three way race could well give the office to the likes of Mike Dunleavy.  (I'm afraid my opinion of Dunleavy is not very positive, though I acknowledge it's based on one event - the hearings he chaired in Anchorage during a special session.  His committee's task was simply to pass a bill - Bree's Law, to teach kids to defend themselves from sexual predators -  that the Senate had passed unanimously the previous year but the House hadn't gotten too.  The House subsequently passed it and now the Senate merely needed to pass it one more time.  It should have taken five minutes.  It took days.  Dunleavy tried to water down bill and add his own - already rejected during the regular session - amendments.  Here's one of the posts that sums up much of those hearings.)

I consoled myself and others about Begich's decision by saying, "Mark is a good politician and candidate, he knows the issues and he is a real extrovert.  But much more important is that he wouldn't jump in this race without talking to his brother, State Senator Tom Begich. And Tom knows the numbers of Alaska politics better than just about anyone else.  I know this, and got to know Tom, when I was covering the Alaska Redistricting Board.  Tom was at most meetings along with his equally knowledgeable Republican counterpart Randy Ruedrich.

So, when I saw Tom at the immigration rally on Saturday, I gave him pretty much that preface I gave others.  Here's what he answered.  [It was noisy Saturday.  There was music and lots of people talking around us.  The audio is mostly understandable, but I've made a transcript.  There were a few parts I wasn't completely sure of, but nothing that changes the basic meaning.  The transcript follows the video.]

Reasonably close transcript:
Steve:  Tom
Tom:  Hey Steve, how’re you doing?
Steve:  I trust your judgment . . .
Tom:  I’m glad
Steve:  . . . But I’m really concerned about Mark jumping into the race, so tell me why this is happening.  Is this going to lose the race altogether?
Tom:  Not a chance.  When you look at the numbers we use  to analyze the race, what is . . . the key  here is to make sure a progressive is elected governor of the state of Alaska. I spent time talking to the Governor, the Lt. Governor, and others.  My brother.  Facilitating for the last week before the filing deadline.
And you know, it was our belief, based on the data, based on those discussions, that the governor wasn’t going to be in a position to win this race.  And, you know, we can’t sacrifice a progressive agenda, we can’t take that risk.  The imperative was to be sure that the strongest progressive candidate was in the race.  And that that candidate was part of our base party.  Try to remember, our primary is open to Independents and Democrats.  The Governor was ??? going to be in that primary and changed his mind.  That’s a problem.  There would have been another D probably if Mark hadn’t filed.  And Mark would have been, was, is the strongest D.
I never would have supported my brother getting into this race if I didn’t think he could win this race, and I’m certain that he can.  That being said, the question is how do we all come together as progressives?  There’s not a lot of hostility here between the Governor or between my brother.  What there is, is the need to have the strongest candidate face Mike Dunleavy.

Look, we’re talking about the situation now where the Supreme Court at the Federal level where you’re going to have Choice at risk, LGBT rights at risk.  There are a number of things that are going to take strong governance at the local level to ??? those issues.  Mark is the best candidate by far for that.
So with all that said, I believe Mark has the wherewithal to do it and the ability to do it.
Let me add one last thing.  Mark as the Democratic candidate brings other resources to the table.  The Democratic Governors’ Association resources, DFC resources that otherwise wouldn’t be coming to the state.  [http://www.democraticfreedomcaucus.org]   That’s going to help our down-ballot races, which matters a lot.
I know that both campaigns are going to continue to talk throughout this process, throughout the primary.  I’m certain that at the end of August, everybody will sit down and talk about who’s in third, who’s in second and make the right decisions.  I just believe that’ll happen.  But if it doesn’t happen, we have data that shows Mark wins a three horse race and he’s the stronger candidate in a two horse race.  And that’s what matters.  We have to win for progressives, we have to win.
Steve:  So you’re saying, if Mark didn’t get in the race, Dunleavy would have won anyway?
Tom:  I believe that to be true, yes.
Steve:  Thank you very much.
Tom:  You’re welcome.  
After I stopped the camera, I did ask Tom about the data he was basing this on.  He mentioned some polls, but pointed specifically to a poll that had been posted on Midnight Sun which showed, in a three-way race,  Dunleavy with 38%,  Mark Begich with 33%, and Walker with 23%.  These numbers were based on Begich having just gotten into the race and not having done any campaigning.   He also said that the Permanent Fund was really hurting Walker.  He also pointed out that Walker was a pro-life Republican.  He'd lost in a previous Republican primary so last round he entered as an Independent.  Walker and the Democratic candidate - Alaska Native and former head of the Alaska Permanent Fund Byron Mallott - realized that neither could beat the Republican Sean Parnell in a three way race.  So their Lt. Governor partners bowed out and Mallot joined as the Lt. Governor candidate with Walker as the candidate for Governor.  And they won.  Walker's main goal at the time was to build a natural gas pipeline, force the oil companies to release the natural gas they had on the North Slope, and ship the gas to Asia.  While there is action on that project and an agreement has been signed with a Chinese partners, there is also a lot of skepticism about whether it will ever be built.

If the poll numbers don't change much by August - or if Begich moves up - would Walker be willing to step out of the race?  The Democrats did that in 2014 to help Walker get elected.   I imagine he'd want Begich to commit to the pipeline and perhaps be given a position to lead that fight.  Walker has acted as a rational adult in Juneau- at least as I saw it, making decisions based on facts and practical realities rather than ideology.  But his cutting back the Alaska Permanent Fund while the Republicans blocked any other sources of revenue - recouping the oil taxes they cut earlier, an income tax, even a sales tax - doesn't sit well with Alaskans.  

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