Alaska’s democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Begich is not one to hold back strong opinions, and he is adamant about his opposition to the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling in the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case.
The senator running for re-election this fall said the landmark ruling paves the way for more challenges that go deeper than the Hobby Lobby case.
“It opens up the whole debate on reproductive rights and choice,” Begich said, later adding, “As a woman or man that’s concerned about reproductive rights you should be concerned with this ruling.”
The court ruled 5-4 in favor of Hobby Lobby stores which sought a religious exemption from the Affordable Care Act mandate to provide coverage for four of 20 types of contraceptives. Hobby Lobby argued that the four methods, which included two types of “morning-after pills” and intrauterine devices, constituted an abortion because they believe life begins when the egg is first fertilized. Scientists are divided on the issue.
Still, for Begich, the ruling takes away some individual rights for the sake of a corporation.
“I can only say this as a man, but as a woman to have your boss tell you what kind of birth control you can have, I think is a big problem,” Begich said. “It takes away women’s reproductive rights that have been fought for for decades.
“Women’s health care is once again going to be under attack as time goes on,” he added.
He said work is already underway on legislation that will “fix this problem” and protect women from those kinds of rights being taken away by a court ruling.
“In this case, what we want to do is make sure that right is preserved,” Begich said. “How we can do that legislatively — we’re not sure yet.”
Working with Obama
As Alaska braces for the fall election, many residents have been buffeted with an onslaught of TV ads, and a good number of them have been attacking the incumbent Democrat. And there’s a common number in many of those ads — 97 percent.
That’s the amount of time Begich has voted with President Barack Obama, according to the ads. But Begich offers some insight into the figure.
Politifact.com — an endeavor of the Tampa Bay Times — calls the ads “mostly false,” and Begich says the figure represents a small window of time where 60 percent of the votes counted to reach that number are confirmation votes that generally get bipartisan support.
“I don’t take them personally,” he said of the attack ads, “but if they mislead on my record — they’re going to get push back.”
He said he has voted with Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski at least 75 percent of the time so far this year — the highest percentage of any pair of senators from a single state that are split Republican and Democrat.
Max Croes, a spokesperson for his campaign said in an email that the number is actually over 80 percent including the most recent votes.
As for the senator’s relationship with the President? Begich said it “depends on the day.”
“Around oil and gas, it’s a little rough to say the least, because I think his administration was wrong,” Begich said about Arctic resource development issues.
He said his stance for Alaskan issues — such as fighting increases to parcel post costs and increased TSA fees for Alaskans flying particularly in the Southeast panhandle — have often been at odds with the President, and that’s all right with him.
A particularly Alaskan story was when First Lady Michelle Obama was pushing for the use of red potatoes versus white potatoes in a federal program because the red variety is healthier. Begich opposed the effort due to the difficulty of finding red potatoes in rural Alaska — that didn’t sit well with the First Lady.
“Michelle Obama called me because I’m for all potatoes,” Begich said, laughing.