Friday, September 4, 2009

Why Is Progressive Alaska So Hard on Sen. Begich?

(This essay is a response to issues that have come up over the past three days in discussions with members of Sen. Begich's staff, Alaska Democratic Party officials, and fellow Alaska progressive bloggers, about my recent writings about Mark Begich)

Progressive Alaska
has been hard on Alaska Sen. Mark Begich.

It didn't begin with the ongoing health care debate.

It began when Mark filed to run against Ray Metcalfe in the 2008 Alaska Democratic Party primary. Between Mark's campaign filing for that race and today, I've been involved with both of these important Alaska figures. I've donated to and volunteered for causes both support, and my wife and I donated three times to Mark's 2008 campaign.

Back in the spring and summer of 2008, I asked Mark questions about his dealings with Anchorage developer Jon Rubini that Mark satisfactorily answered. Other queries, though, Mark skated around or bullshitted himself through. Much to Ray's chagrin, I've lived with that. I told both of them then that they should go on Ray's Anchorage real estate tour together, and not come back until they'd hashed it out.

Yeah, right.

That isn't why Progressive Alaska is hard on Sen. Mark Begich, though. Here's why:

1) I'm secretary of the Alaska District 13 and Mat-Su Area Democrats. At meeting after meeting, Egan Dinner after dinner, the people who elected me to that little office strongly support health care reform. The majority of them want a single payer system similar to that in place in Canada. Almost all view the "public option" as a sad compromise. Almost all view this issue as one of the most important facing the American people. When I write here or make public statements about health care reform, I'm aware that, among other things, I represent the Mat-Su Democrats.

2) I've watched Alaska Democrats, when elected to public office in the past, turn out to be doormats for special interests. Ex-Governor Bill Sheffield, now hosts pigroasts for goddam Don Young. Ex-Governor Steve Cowper is now a Houston-based big oil shill. Ex-Governor Tony Knowles has a long history of enabling the growth of out-of-state corporate interests in the Alaska bush, at the expense of local residents.

Those three governors ruled before we had this rapid-fire interactive tool known as the Alaska progressive blogging community. Begich is the first high-profile Democrat to make the scene since this paradigm shift. I feel Progressive Alaska has a duty to be PROGRESSIVE as PA covers the senator, even though Mark has to represent all Alaskans.

I'm trying to help keep Mark from ending up as compromised and soiled as Bill, Steve and Tony.

3) This is hard to explain, and is a large part of why I'm diverging from some of the other Alaska progressive bloggers from time to time, and have gotten incredibly strident at times:

Climate change is starting to cascade. Rapidly. Why more people don't see this as obvious beats the hell out of me.

Environmental degradation, whether by warfare (depleted uranium debris, war-caused oil spills, land mines, cluster bombs), agricultural industrial structures (large-scale farming practices of herbicide, pesticide, GMO crops, artificial fertilizers, feedlot pollution and disease promotion, overfishing) or dying urban raison de etre (as Max Blumenthal observed to me today "LA is burning up from the outside, working inward"), is far more serious than most realize. Action needs to be, in my opinion, much more severe than we seem to be prepared to undertake.

There is no time to let Mark Begich settle into his job.

4) Somebody has to criticize Mark from the left. I don't think anyone else here is doing that consistently.

I've been writing nationally about Alaska political developments since 2005. Other Alaska blogs offer representation of bigger, more vital communities than does PA, or more incisive, witty commentary, or far better in-depth research, or other important distinctions. But PA tries to represent both the national aspirations of the new progressive movement in Democratic Party politics, and find ways to continuously link that to ongoing and emerging trends in Alaska issues.

To blindly defend Sen. Mark Begich at this time is just too much of a stretch.

image - Mat-Su Democrats begging Mark Begich to stand up for doing the right thing on health care


Susie said...

I'm glad to read this post and get some perspective on how you are approaching Sen. Begich's fulfillment of his role as one of our 2 senators. Your comments have seemed somewhat harsh, so I hope that what you are doing is a type of "tough love" to try and keep him on the right track for fulfilling progressive goals. However, Please keep in mind that he is in somewhat of a difficult position as a Democratic Senator in a very very red state, and he has to be a senator for all Alaskans. And of course the Republicans will be pushing HARD to make him a one term Senator and replace him in 2016, especialy since they are angry that Ted Stevens is not in this seat. Mark is walking a tightrope, and needs our support in many ways such as thanking him when he does well, and giving diplomatic constructive criticism when he strays.

Aussie Blue Sky said...

Let's say you don't vote for Lisa Murkowski but she is elected anyway. She votes against everything you think is right. Let's say you vote for Mark Begich and he is elected. He consistently votes against what you think is right.

If, as you say, these people are to represent all Alaskans, then who is representing you, Phil?

HarpboyAK said...

Mark's father never waffled the way Mark does. Nick always gave you a straight answer, even when he knew you would disagree with his position, but he was always ready to listen to everyone.

Mark unfortunately has been infected with "next election syndrome" where he's already trying to displease as few people as possible in order to run for his next election. What he needs to do instead is to DO THE RIGHT THING and forget about the next election. So does the President.

Quite frankly, the public option is my litmus test for Mark. If he fails to support it, he's lost my support --- a Democrat the caves into the insurance and pharma industries is a bad as a Repugnican as far as I'm concerned, and I'll work for another Senate candidate who won't become a corporate tool the next time Mark's up.

He needs to be a statesman, which means that he needs to stop thinking about the next election and DO HIS JOB. If he does it right, he'll get re-elected.

Keep the heat on, Phil!

Steve said...

I learned during the Vietnam war that the most radical anti-war demonstrators made the more moderate ones seem downright reasonable. While I don't always agree with your tone, Phil, your points are generally close to the mark. So putting pressure on Mark from what used to be known as the left of center (now the radical left) is not only Phil's right, but it pushes the discussion further in the right direction.

Since the demise of the fairness doctrine, the faaaaar right radicals have pushed our country way right (Nixon's policies in today's US are downright liberal). Your message, Phil, while sometimes as strident as the far right is never mean spirited and you're always willing to retract if proven wrong. You are always much more truthful and insightful and public spirited.

Phil, you should be calling Mark out when Mark moves expediently right and you shouldn't be worrying about the politics. That's Mark's job, not yours.

The Alaska blog scene has made progressive ideas and activities far more visible - challenging those who voted conservative out of habit, rather than conviction, to think. It also gives liberals a sense they aren't alone in this wilderness. The scene could be quite different by 2014.

If Mark were to be the make-or-break vote for a good Health Care Law, he absolutely has to vote yes and assume that the next 4 or 5 years will prove that he did the right thing for Alaskans. And there's no guarantee that he'll be reelected even if he opposes Obama on key issues. Why sell your soul if you aren't guaranteed political immortality in return? (Even if you are?)

What I'd really like to see Mark do is stand up and tell Alaskans why voting for a major health reform is the right thing to do and how it will help all Alaskans. Even those who use their PFD checks to fight socialism.

Ray Duray said...

Dear Philip,

Attaboy! Although I haven't followed your previous posts on Begich to know the particulars of your "J'Accuse", I admire the spirit in which you are suggesting that the progressive "movement" needs to be a relentless thorn in the side.

FDR said much the same about having to be "forced to do the right thing" by the progressives, populists and labor activists of the 1930s.

The problem that I see with the Democratic Party today nationally as well as in Alaska is that progressives just aren't willing to do enough hellraising to get the attention of the political class. We've been written off as a political block that has no place to go other than the Democratic Party. And therefore there is no attempt at all to seduce us with the sort of legislation and regulation that will strengthen the public's interest, rather than the special interests.

I note your disdain for Bill Sheffield. I met Bill when the Governor's Mansion was being renovated in the mid-1980s. At that time it struck me that he was a fairly lonely figure as the Democratic Governor. He sure took a lot of heat from some of the Republicans in the Lege back then. It's a damn shame that Sheffield has been hosting events for Don Young, but I guess that in the sort of elite circles the two of them travel in that there isn't a dime's worth of difference between a corporate Republican and a corporate Democrat. That seems to be the club that Sen. Begich has in mind to remain a part of. It's hard to argue that the progressives have as much to offer. Perhaps all political families simply decay over time. One of my great heroes is Tommy Douglas, who as the Premier of Saskatchewan introduced Medicare to North America. Now, his grandson Keifer Sutherland is grossly enriching himself by selling torture fantasies on Fox Entertainment. Perhaps Mark Begich is simply another example of inevitable political entropy. I'm delighted to have you pointing out his shortfalls, however; whether or not he gives a damn.

Gscott said...

Great explanation of your perspective. Makes sense and adds to journalistic value of the blog. I'd still like to see more on Lisa and don, but... You're right on the history and this blog is a good addition to the the discourse.
Keep at em

Jaime said...

As a fellow Mat-Su Democrat and resident of District 13, bravo! Thank you! Keep the heat on Begich. All of your reasons are good ones and I share them.
Rather than thinking of your/our stance toward Begich as criticism, I prefer to think that we are supporting his rising to the occassion. He won't become a great progressive statesman unless we help him do that. The potential is there, but whether he fulfills our hopes remains to be seen. I once had hope for Sheffield, Cowper and Knowles, but they failed the challenge.

Anonymous said...

Please cover Lisa with the same urgency you salivate over Mark! I hate blue dogs...I hate Republicans more...I think it's BULLSHIT you give Lisa a pass...where is the equality???

Anonymous said...

Ha, ha !! The most Left-wing president ever, the MSM as the DNC's Pravda, majorities in both houses and yet the liberals still can't get things done. Better hurry up, losers, come 2010 your golden moment will have passed. The American people are waking up to the anti-American creeps infesting the White House and your Messiah has feet of clay. Back to dreaming about life in Cuba or North Korea again I guess (oh that's right, you don't have the courage of your convictions to actually move there)

Snowing in Alaska said...

Anon - Ha ha! You are talking like an idiot. If you think President Obama is the most left wing president ever, then I would guess your age to be around two years old.

Go take a class in civics, and while you are at it, take one in community development. Your ignorance of politics and society issues is profound. Others, like those in the middle, might actually chat with you if you had something to add to the conversation. Otherwise, you change nothing, and no one. You are completely ineffective.

Anonymous said...

"If you think President Obama is the most left wing president ever,"

Please name a president to the Left of Obama...if you can. And yes, I am two years old and yet I can run rings around you baby boomers whose sole recourse to people opposing Obamacare is to call them "teabaggers". You disaffected haters who throw around words like "nazis" , "racists" and "crazies" to attack those who don't hold socialist views are the ones who should learn about "civics". But why so peevish ? You should be happy with haters like Van Jones in power. How come that Hope 'n Change still leaves you so bitter ?

Anonymous said...

So sweet to see the nice little old ladies holding their mass-produced pro-Obamacare signs. Bless them for caring one way or another. But, of course, if they were holding handwritten signs opposing Obamacare, the "progressives" would dismiss them as "terrorists", "racists", "nazis", "teabaggers" or "crazies". Why has the Left become so full of hate ?

Anonymous said...

Sen Begich needs to learn the first lesson of Congress-- a competent staff.

His Anchorage office staff don't know where he is giving interviews in town; his DC staff can't find their way around the federal telephone book and never follow-up with requests for assistance after they promise to.

The recent rural tour is a good example-- we have federal agencies over the past decade which have failed in their responsibilities towards the Unorganized Borough and deliberately so. USDA NRCS for one. Why won't Begich's office follow-up in order to find out what rural Alaska really needs.

ella said...

for anon @ 12:35

LBJ was the most liberal but that's only because he took liberal reforms farther than they had ever been. Carter implemented the Alaskan Lands Bill one of the most far-reaching conservation acts in history. He also appointed more women and minorities than any other president up to that time to government positions/judiciary.

FDR was the most radical though. The fundamental changes made during his era both in oversight and social safety nets is mind boggling. Most of the reforms and entitlements he put in place would never happen in today's political climate-too "socialist."

I WISH (as a Progressive) that Obama was as far left wing as you seem to believe. Left of center - just barely, but not nearly as "left" as FDR and LBJ.

By the way, you may want to drop the word "haters" from your vocabulary - it is getting old, and it is completely ineffective to intelligent debate. Sort of like calling people who disagree with you "doody heads." And I DO agree with you about merely labeling the opposition as "teabaggers," for same reason as stated above with regard to an ineffective debating style.

Anonymous said...

I became dissatisfied with Begich long ago after watching my property taxes go up year after year.

I voted for the guy for Mayor, but couldn't bring myself to do it in his Senate run.

Begich will be a one term Senator.

Mark my words.

Roger Helbig said...

If you are Secretary of a Democratic group, you are woefully misinformed about depleted uranium. Why did you even include it in your littany of environmental degradation? Do you know that DU is Uranium 238, commonly found in every soil and rock type on earth, and you ingest and breathe in a very minute quantity every day of your life. Learn the science; don't just mouth slogans from protest signs. An interesting place to start is - or just write me and ask questions.

GScott said...

Anon Ha! Ha!:
LBJ, FDR, Jimmy Carter... hell, Teddy Roosevelt was left of Obama on domestic issues (e.g. environment, trust-busting). Even Richard Nixon was to Obama's left on health care reform.
It is easier to destroy than to create. This is why the radical right-wing— funded lavishly by obscenely wealthy corporations, inspired by an absolutely shameless mass media, and abetted by the most apathetic citizenry in American history— is being effective with their (your) obstructionist tactics.
At the end of the day though, like it or not, we're all in this together. If the economy collapses or health care system implodes or the rest of the world festers in hatred for us, all the political points gained through obstructionism won't save you.

Philip Munger said...


Regarding DU, I have no idea who you are, but I am not woefully misinformed.

Of course U 238 is found in the environment. The U 238 found in the environment is not disbursed as has been much of the debris, post-explosive dust and after effects of our lavish use of it in war zones, particularly in the 30 mm shells shot by Bradley fighting vehicles, A-10's and other misuses.

My list of gnawing or rapidly festering war-related environmental problems in the above post was, if anything, far too short, not too long.

Re your invitation, my email address is posted at this blog. I'm very busy, but invite you to learn more.

Anonymous said...

"This is why the radical right-wing— funded lavishly by obscenely wealthy corporations, inspired by an absolutely shameless mass media,"

Yeah, that shameless right-wing mainstream media really hammered Obama during the election didn't it ? I remember all those attacks on Obama in the LAT, WaPo, SF Chronicle, Boston Globe, Miami Herald, NYT etc. etc.
Yep, those rightist fascists at MSNBC, ABC, CNN, AP, CBS have all been at Obama's throat since January haven't they ? You people REALLY need to get out of the 1960s ..your cliches are so Woodstock.

Anonymous said...

"image - Mat-Su Democrats begging Mark Begich to stand up for doing the right thing on health care"

Really ? "Begging" ? Those sweet old ladies don't look like they're "begging", they're just smiling and holding up some mass-produced Astroturf signs.