Empire Editorial: Begich did more than enough to keep his seat

We know we’ll be relieved when all those smear ads, mailers and social media messages stop peppering our mailboxes, news feeds and television screens. This year’s Senate race between incumbent Sen. Mark Begich and Republican challenger Dan Sullivan is hands-down the nastiest we’ve seen in recent memory. Neither campaign did their candidate any favors in recent months. Neither Sullivan nor Begich is as evil or wholesome as he’s been made out to be.

 

Judging on past records and their plan moving forward, Alaskans should send Begich back to Washington D.C. for another term. He knows Alaska best and since 2009 has done his part to ensure others in the nation’s capital got to know it better, too.

In 2009, Begich brought former Secretary of the Army Eric Shinseki to Nome so he could witness firsthand the challenges Alaska’s rural veterans face. Not long afterward, an agreement was signed between the VA and tribal health care organizations to provide treatment to veterans in rural areas. There are now 26 Indian Health Service facilities statewide that have signed on. 

In recent years, he toured Dillingham and Cordova with Federal Communications Commission officials. In February 2014, the FCC gave Alaska companies $41 million out of $49 million available nationwide to improve broadband service in rural areas. Begich networked for our networks.

When the Farm Bill was signed last January, Begich helped ensure Alaska was taken care of. He helped secure funding for the Rural Alaska Village Grant program, which since 2011 has provided more than $100 million for rural communities to improve water and wastewater infrastructure. He also pushed to restore PILT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) funding totaling $26 million annually to Alaskan communities. 

For those who think Begich hasn’t done enough for resource development, he pushed the Environmental Protection Agency to allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to permit Kensington Mine. As for the Greens Creek Mine, Begich helped secure permits for its facility expansion, going so far as to hold up the confirmation of USDA undersecretary nominee Robert Bonnie until the two had a chance to discuss Greens Creek and the Roadless Rule. 

Begich also held up the re-nomination hearing of IHS acting director Yvette Roubideaux over payments owed to tribal health clinics. After decades of underpayments, a $489 million settlement was agreed upon. 

As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Begich has helped funnel $440 million in federal highway dollars to Alaska. Murkowski also holds a seat on that committee, and the duo are the only two senators from the same state to sit on that powerful committee — a circumstance possible because they come from different parties. If Begich loses his seat Tuesday, Alaska will feel it when federal dollars are doled out. 

Begich in recent months has described himself as a thorn in President Obama’s side. That’s a bit of a stretch, but we also disagree with assertions he’s a pushover, puppet or both. Certainly there are areas where he can take a stronger stand.

The Affordable Care Act hasn’t lived up to its lofty promises, but claims that Begich was the “deciding vote” are absurd. Begich was still one vote, even if he did vote last. If re-elected, we hope Begich will become the thorn he’s claiming to be. The President’s habit of using executive orders to run government needs to stop. 

Our government needs to go in a new direction, but forcing Begich out won’t replace Obama any sooner. For that we need to wait two more years. 

Sullivan impressed us with his approach to foreign policy and understanding of international affairs, but his disconnect on Alaska-specific issues was troubling. More troubling were the changes we saw as his campaign went on. 

Earlier this year, an approachable, likeable and conversational candidate talked to the Empire in person. Lately, we’ve seen a candidate using GOP talking points and buzzwords with generic and scripted dialogue. Honestly, we liked Sullivan better before the Koch brothers started backing him before the Republican primary. That’s when we noticed Sullivan change. 

If he is elected, we think Sullivan will do a fine job in the Senate. He’s neither anti-Native or anti-women as attack ads have made him out to be. In fact, there’s a lot to like about Sullivan, such his solutions to curbing federal overreach. His proposal to split up the 9th Circuit Court also makes sense. 

When we ask which candidate is best suited to challenge the Obama administration, our answer is Dan Sullivan. The problem, as we have said, is Obama only has two years left in office and Senate seats are six-year terms.

When we ask which candidate knows Alaska best and is most capable of advocating for our state, our answer is Sen. Mark Begich. 

Alaska needs a strong advocate regardless of who is president, and we’ve had that for six years with Mark Begich. If we send Begich back to Washington, we’ll get the same results for another six: funding for rural communities, a proven advocate for veteran and Native rights and a straight-shooter who will make sure Alaska gets everything it deserves.

• Empire editorials are written by the Juneau Empire’s editorial board. Members include Publisher Rustan Burton, rustan.burton@juneauempire.com; Director of Audience Abby Lowell, abby.lowell@juneauempire.com; Managing Editor Charles L. Westmoreland, charles.westmoreland@juneauempire.com; and Asst. Editor James Brooks, james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com.

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