JUNEAU — U.S. Sen. Mark Begich on Monday called out the Parnell administration and state lawmakers to make strong commitments to education, give greater support for children’s health insurance and eliminate any obstacles to voting.
The Democrat, in a joint address to the Alaska Legislature, said he knows it’s popular to “bemoan” federal overreach and “file a lawsuit weekly” over perceived overstepping and that he too has engaged in fed-bashing, “when it gets results.”
Begich said he will continue to fight against keeping the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge locked-up from production and to protect Second Amendment rights. He said it’s “no accident” that drilling in the Alaska Arctic got the OK after his election in 2008.
Much of the legislature’s attention this session has been on federal overreach, with resolutions opposing the president’s executive actions on guns and urging Congress to limit overreach in state resource management. The Alaska House recently passed a bill that would make it a felony for a federal official or agent to try to enforce new restrictions on gun ownership.
Begich said there must be a commitment to education on the federal, state and local levels, calling a good education “one of the long-standing promises of our democracy.” He said he is introducing legislation that, among other things, would create a student loan-forgiveness program for graduates of early education programs and increase the child-care tax credit.
He said he’s “troubled” by pending cuts in Alaska school districts and said it’s important to make Alaska’s public schools, universities and vocational programs stronger and more viable. He made a point of underscoring “public schools.”
There has been considerable debate in the legislature over the issue of choice and a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow for public money to be used for private schools.
Begich said it’s “shameful” that Alaska’s eligibility level for children’s health insurance is low — 49th worst in the country.
He said he’s also worried about what he sees as trends to make voting more difficult in Alaska, particularly for Alaska Natives and other minority groups. The state last year sued over provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act, arguing, in part, that the requirement that the Justice Department approve redistricting plans or proposed election changes is unwarranted. That case is on hold pending the outcome of a U.S. Supreme Court case.
A bill also has been introduced in the House that calls for voters to present identification to cast their ballots.
“There is not a problem here” with voter fraud, he said.