Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich is promising to be a new kind of senator from Alaska. That is, of course, if he decides to run for the Senate at all.
The Democrat with one of the most famous names in Alaska politics is touring the state, deciding whether or not to challenge Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, the longest-serving Republican ever in the U.S. Senate.
Begich visited Juneau last week, exploring a run that was almost unthinkable a few years ago, taking on the senator who has brought so much federal money to Alaska he's known as "Uncle Ted."
Begich is partway through a series of community visits to gauge support for a run that has already taken him to Bethel, Fairbanks and other communities. He spoke with the Empire in Juneau on Friday, and Sitka and Soldotna are on the list of cities yet to visit.
This is a time of change, he said, and may be a unique opportunity for Democrats in Alaska, he said.
"People are excited, no question about it," he said.
Begich, 45, said he plans to use new technology, such as videoconferencing, to communicate with Alaska in ways that haven't been possible in the past, he said.
"We deliver medicine and we deliver education that way. Why can't we deliver the delegation that way?" he asked.
Stevens and other members of Alaska's congressional delegation have delivered statements on cable TV from Washington, D.C, but Begich said he'd do more to interact with the public.
"You have to be willing to take questions," he said.
Begich said he has a history of engaging with the public, including calling talk radio hosts - even right-winger Dan Fagan in Anchorage - to debate issues and talk with callers. Begich said he'd skip the D.C. reception circuit and instead use the time to call back home and talk with Fagan's listeners and others.
He said he already posts to blogs in Anchorage, sometimes surprising people who don't expect to find the city's mayor debating public policy online.
One of the reasons this may be an opportune time for a Democrat to take on Stevens is the ongoing federal corruption investigations in Alaska surrounding the former VECO Corp., the oil field services firm formerly owned by convicted felon Bill Allen.
FBI agents served a search warrant on Stevens' Girdwood home, which Allen helped remodel, while federal officials have identified Stevens' son Ben as a recipient of unearned "consulting" contracts from VECO.
Begich said he wasn't counting on the investigation to ensnare Stevens, however.
"You cannot run with that. You cannot bank on it," he said.
While Begich said he was "exploring" a run, he talked like someone who has already decided to be a candidate. He said his official decision will be made in three to four weeks, in late April.
He said the "Alaskans for Begich Exploratory Committee" Web site is only a single page now, but going to be much expanded soon. It should debut within three to four weeks, he said.
If Begich runs, he'll face Ray Metcalfe, a former Republican legislator from Anchorage who is now registered as a Democrat, and other lesser-known candidates in the Aug. 26 primary.
Contact Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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