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Democrat

Sen. Mark Begich (D)

Leadership: Democratic Steering & Outreach Committee Chairman
Mark Begich Contact
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Email: n/a
DC Contact Information

Phone: 202-224-3004

Address: 111 RSOB, DC 20510

Mark Begich Committees
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Mark Begich Biography
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  • Elected: 2008, term expires 2014, 1st term.
  • State: Alaska
  • Born: Mar. 30, 1962, Anchorage
  • Home: Anchorage
  • Education:

    Steller H.S. (Anchorage), 1980.

  • Political Career:

    Anchorage Assembly, 1988-98; Anchorage mayor, 2003-08.

  • Religion:

    Catholic

  • Family: Married (Deborah Bonito); 1 children

Mark Begich, elected in 2008, is Alaska’s junior senator. As a Democrat from a deep-red state, he has focused intensely on parochial issues in his first termin hopes of being rewarded with a second in 2014. He also has gone to extraordinary lengths to distance himself from an unpopular President Obama, telling The Washington Post in July 2014 that he was "a thorn in his [backside]." Read More

Mark Begich, elected in 2008, is Alaska’s junior senator. As a Democrat from a deep-red state, he has focused intensely on parochial issues in his first termin hopes of being rewarded with a second in 2014. He also has gone to extraordinary lengths to distance himself from an unpopular President Obama, telling The Washington Post in July 2014 that he was "a thorn in his [backside]."

Begich was born five years after his parents moved to the Alaska Territory in 1957 to teach school. His father, Nick Begich, was a major figure in the state’s political history. He was elected to the Alaska Senate and, in 1970, was elected Alaska’s at-large representative to Congress. In October 1972, Nick Begich was killed along with U.S. House Majority Leader Hale Boggs of Louisiana as they were flying to a campaign fundraiser. Their plane disappeared over the Gulf of Alaska. The terrible loss initially turned a young Mark Begich away from politics as a potential career. “I was 10 years old, my mother was 34, and she had six kids, and the job that took my dad away from me was politics. So probably subconsciously I had no interest, zero, because of that,” Begich said.

As a young man, Begich was more interested in business. Showing his entrepreneurial side at age 16, he opened a teen nightclub called the Motherlode. When the property he leased was sold to someone who wanted to shut the nightclub down and replace it with a strip club, Begich gathered signatures on a petition protesting the award of a liquor license for the bar, testified in front of the city assembly, and ultimately succeeded in having conditions attached to the granting of the license. When he graduated from high school in 1980, the Alaskan economy had hit a low point, and his mother’s real estate business was in serious trouble. Begich recalled, “She was a single parent, and in order to help, I had a choice.” Rather than go to college like many of his classmates, Begich went to work in every aspect of his mother’s business, from maintenance to management of the properties. He helped several of his brothers and sisters with their college expenses, although it meant giving up his own chance to earn a degree. That experience, he said, led him to place a high value on educational opportunity and is one of the main reasons he says he’s a Democrat in a conservative state like Alaska. But he’s quick to note that he’s an Alaska-style Democrat, which is to say, “pro-gun rights, pro-oil and gas, pro-business, small business.”

Despite his prior disinterest in politics, it turned out that Begich inherited his father’s knack for it. He was appointed by the Anchorage mayor to the youth commission at age 17, then landed a spot in the city health department. When he was 20, Begich was hired as the personal assistant to Mayor Tony Knowles, who would later become governor. A few years later, Begich, frustrated that the roads in his neighborhood were not being paved, ran for the Anchorage Assembly and won, becoming the body’s youngest member ever. He served for 10 years and was chosen chairman.

In the 1990s, Gov. Knowles appointed Begich to the Student Loan Corporation and tasked him with dealing with its serious financial problems. Begich identified a debilitating lack of coordination between the corporation and the Post-Secondary Education Commission and dealt with the problem by appointing himself chairman of the commission. He held meetings of the two organizations at the same time, compelling them to get along. When he left the Student Loan Corporation, he had significantly lowered interest rates for borrowers and raised its bond rating. In 1994, Begich ran for Anchorage mayor and lost with 42% of the vote. He ran again in 2000 and lost with 48%. In his third attempt in 2003, Begich beat incumbent George Wuerch. As mayor, Begich claimed credit for getting voters to twice pass bond issues, for holding down property taxes, for hiring 65 additional police officers, and for setting up a multi-agency anti-gang initiative. He was easily reelected to a second term in 2006.

In late 2007, national Democratic leaders began courting Begich for a possible challenge to Sen. Ted Stevens, a six-term Republican who was vulnerable as a result of a federal corruption investigation into his relationship with Bill Allen, the head of VECO, an oil services company. Stevens was later indicted for failing to report on his Senate financial disclosure forms thousands of dollars in renovation work that VECO employees did on his home. Despite this baggage, Stevens was still a formidable figure in Alaskan politics. He had represented the state for four decades and had won reelection by wide margins; in one race, he carried every precinct in the state. He could claim credit for the legislation that allowed the building of the Alaska oil pipeline and that established Alaska Native corporations. As a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, he funneled vast sums of money into the state. Begich was encouraged to take him on by Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer of New York. Begich also traveled the state, testing the waters for a possible candidacy in areas where he had little or no name recognition.

In early 2008, Begich made the decision to challenge Stevens on an anti-corruption platform. He issued an “Alaska Ethics Pledge,” in which he vowed to make public both his and his wife’s finances “to the dollar” and to disclose the beneficiary of his congressional earmarks, the special spending provisions tucked into appropriations bills by lawmakers. But he was careful not to attack the revered Stevens personally, and he paid tribute to Stevens’ long service to the state.

Begich also zeroed in on Alaska issues. He called for increased spending for rural health care, an important matter for many Alaska Natives, and for loans for energy-efficient community buildings. He said that the national Democratic Party was “wrong” on gun rights and wrong in opposing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. With help from the DSCC, he proved to be a solid fundraiser, raising $4.6 million to Stevens’ $5.2 million. National Democrats ran ads showing federal agents raiding the incumbent’s house. National Republicans ran ads accusing Begich of rezoning downtown Anchorage land to aid two developers and highlighting $16,000 in tax liens on his businesses in the 1990s.

Stevens was indicted on July 29, 2008. He proclaimed his innocence, but polls showed him running slightly behind or even with Begich. In the August Democratic primary, Begich got 84% of the vote against four opponents. In the GOP primary, Stevens beat David Cuddy, a businessman who had run against him 12 years before, 64%-27%. Some national Republicans expressed hope that Stevens would resign and let Alaska Republicans pick a new, untarnished candidate. But Stevens refused to quit even though he spent much of the fall campaign season on trial in a Washington, D.C., courtroom. On October 27, 2008, Stevens was convicted on all seven counts. He accused Justice Department lawyers of “unconscionable” conduct, and aired a two-minute television ad recounting what he had done for Alaska for 40 years. Last-minute polls showed a dead heat.

For much of Election Night on November 3, returns put Stevens ahead of Begich 48%-46%, but the race was too close to call even into the next morning. Presidential candidate Barack Obama’s superb organization in Alaska had ensured that many Democrats cast early votes or absentee votes, and as they were counted, Begich gained ground. By November 12, Begich was ahead, and on November 18, he led by more than the number of votes left to count. He became the first Democratic senator elected in Alaska since Mike Gravel was reelected in 1974.

In April 2009, the Justice Department dismissed Stevens’ conviction after it was revealed that prosecutors had failed to turn over key documents to his defense lawyers. The Alaska GOP and then-Gov. Sarah Palin called for a special election in light of the new information. Begich responded with a statement saying, “I got into the Senate race long before Sen. Stevens’ legal troubles began because Alaskans were looking for a change and a senator as independent as Alaska.” No special election was held.

In the Senate, Begich has been one of the chamber's most conservative Democrats, with a voting record that's only slightly more liberal than that of his moderate Alaska GOP colleague Lisa Murkowski. By mid-2014, he had gotten just one bill into law, to rename a courthouse in Anchorage. But he has tenaciously focused on energy legislation and other issues vital to the Alaskan economy. “I’m not bashful about telling people what I think,” Begich says. “I’m very blunt about who and what I believe in. I don’t believe in all the protocols and that stuff around here.” Like Louisiana's Mary Landrieu, another red-state Democrat, he has become known for holding up appointments and other measures as a bargaining tactic on state-related matters. In 2012, he held up the promotion of Lt. Gen. Herbert J. Carlisle because he wanted more details about the relocation of an F-16 squadron at Eielson Air Force Base. The Air Force eventually scrapped plans to move the planes.

He succeeded in getting Senate Democratic leaders interested in a bill he co-sponsored with Landrieu that spelled out the liability of oil companies in the wake of a spill like the one caused by BP in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Their plan, adapted from the nuclear industry, ensured that sky-high insurance costs would not shut out small and mid-sized oil companies from drilling opportunities. The BP escrow account Obama announced with BP on June 16, 2010, was an idea that Begich discussed in the Democratic Caucus right after the blowout. He introduced a bill that forces companies responsible for spills to put money in an escrow account in order to obtain future leases.

In 2009, Begich introduced several bills aimed at improving life in the Arctic, including one to coordinate the plethora of scientific research projects currently being conducted in the region. He also pushed to ensure that the Senate’s energy bill would include revenue-sharing, a top priority for him, and, with Murkowski, he voted against a ban on earmark spending, saying it would have a negative effect on Alaska’s economy.

Democratic leaders took note of the energetic newcomer and in 2010 named Begich chairman of the Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee, a 15-member panel made up of the chairs of major Senate committees. The slot put him in the Senate Democratic leadership, and he remained in that position in the 113th Congress (2013-14) as well as the 114th (2014-15).

Yet Begich has not been afraid to buck his own party on issues important to Alaska. In March 2012, Begich was one of four Democrats in the Senate to oppose a bill ending tax breaks for oil companies. “If we’re going to do tax reform, then everybody has to be at the table, not just selected groups because it polls well and you can beat up on them,” he told the Anchorage Daily News. The bill received a majority in the Senate but failed to receive the necessary 60 votes to break a filibuster. He got into a well-publicized feud with Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill in 2014 over her efforts to look into Alaska Native Corporations, which are businesses entities set up to benefit native Alaskan tribes that get special benefits for contracting bids. “I’ve fought for six years to change the law in regard to Alaska Native Corporations," she said in a statement. "There has consistently been one problem—Mark Begich. He single-handedly protects Alaska and the ANCs.”

As the chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and the Coast Guard, Begich opposed an Obama administration plan to implement coastal and “marine spatial planning,” an environmental review to address demands on the ocean caused by transportation, energy, fishing, and transportation. Begich complained to the Daily News that the process is too costly and would determine “winners and losers in terms of utilization of the oceans.” He staunchly opposed attempts by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to cut federal funding for the Essential Air Service subsidy program for flights to remote Alaska towns. “Eliminating EAS means driving up the price of air transportation which inflates the cost of milk, toilet paper, diapers, and everything Sen. McCain’s constituents can find in a box store or shopping mall,” he said in February 2011.

Begich is up for reelection in 2014. Given that he was elected by a slim margin in a state that favors Republicans, he early on became a prime target for a Republican Party looking for potential pickups. Outside conservative interest groups poured into money to oppose him, highlighting his support for the Affordable Care Act. The GOP selected as its eventual nominee Dan Sullivan, a former appointed state attorney general and commissioer of the state Department of Natural Resources, who beat three other Republicans in the August primary. Begich, in his quest to appear as non-partisan as possible, ran a campaign ad before the primary featuring Murkowski's image, prompting his irritated colleague to tell him to stop using it.

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Mark Begich Election Results
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2008 General
Mark Begich (D)
Votes: 151,767
Percent: 47.77%
Spent: $4,576,970
Ted Stevens
Votes: 147,814
Percent: 46.52%
Spent: $3,858,991
Bob Bird
Votes: 13,197
Percent: 4.15%
2008 Primary
Mark Begich (D)
Votes: 63,747
Percent: 84.12%
Ray Metcalfe
Votes: 5,480
Percent: 7.23%
Bob Bird
Votes: 4,216
Percent: 5.56%
Mark Begich Votes and Bills
Back to top NJ Vote Ratings

National Journal’s rating system is an objective method of analyzing voting. The liberal score means that the lawmaker’s votes were more liberal than that percentage of his colleagues’ votes. The conservative score means his votes were more conservative than that percentage of his colleagues’ votes. The composite score is an average of a lawmaker’s six issue-based scores. See all NJ Voting

More Liberal
More Conservative
2013 2012 2011
Economic 54 (L) : 45 (C) 55 (L) : 44 (C) 62 (L) : 36 (C)
Social 52 (L) : 47 (C) 57 (L) : 36 (C) 52 (L) : - (C)
Foreign 56 (L) : 42 (C) 68 (L) : 19 (C) 65 (L) : 33 (C)
Composite 54.7 (L) : 45.3 (C) 63.5 (L) : 36.5 (C) 68.3 (L) : 31.7 (C)
Interest Group Ratings

The vote ratings by 10 special interest groups provide insight into a lawmaker’s general ideology and the degree to which he or she agrees with the group’s point of view. Two organizations provide just one combined rating for 2011 and 2012, the two sessions of the 112th Congress. They are the ACLU and the ITIC. About the interest groups.

20112012
FRC140
LCV9164
CFG118
ITIC-75
NTU1310
20112012
COC55-
ACLU-75
ACU04
ADA8585
AFSCME100-
Key Senate Votes

The key votes show how a member of Congress voted on the major bills of the year. N indicates a "no" vote; Y a "yes" vote. If a member voted "present" or was absent, the bill caption is not shown. For a complete description of the bills included in key votes, see the Almanac's Guide to Usage.

    • End fiscal cliff
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2012
    • Block faith exemptions
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2012
    • Approve gas pipeline
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2012
    • Approve farm bill
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2012
    • Let cyber bill proceed
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2012
    • Block Gitmo transfers
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2012
    • Raise debt limit
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2011
    • Pass balanced budget amendment
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2011
    • Stop EPA climate regulations
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2011
    • Proceed to Cordray vote
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2011
    • Require talking filibuster
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2011
    • Limit Fannie/Freddie
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2011
    • Regulate financial firms
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2010
    • Pass tax cuts for some
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2010
    • Legalize immigrants' kids
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2010
    • Ratify New START
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2010
    • Confirm Elena Kagan
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2010
    • Stop EPA climate regs
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2010
    • Repeal don't ask, tell
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2010
    • Overturn Ledbetter
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2009
    • Block release of TARP funds
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2009
    • Pass $787 billion stimulus
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2009
    • Repeal DC gun laws
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2009
    • Confirm Sonia Sotomayor
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2009
    • Pass health care bill
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2009
    • Bar budget rules for climate bill
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2009
    • Pass 2010 budget resolution
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2009
    • Let judges adjust mortgages
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2009
    • Allow FDA to regulate tobacco
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2009
    • Protect gays from hate crimes
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2009
    • Cut F-22 funds
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2009
    • Label North Korea terrorist state
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2009
    • Build Guantanamo replacement
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2009
    • Allow federal funds for abortion
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2009
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The Almanac is a members-only database of searchable profiles compiled and adapted from the Almanac of American Politics. Comprehensive online profiles include biographical and political summaries of elected officials, campaign expenditures, voting records, interest-group ratings, and congressional staff look-ups. In-depth overviews of each state and house district are included as well, along with demographic data, analysis of voting trends, and political histories.
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