Alaska Sen. Tom Begich, left, and Rep. Zack Fields, right, both Anchorage Democrats, joined a news conference Thursday to talk up President Joe Biden’s agenda in Alaska. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Alaska Sen. Tom Begich, left, and Rep. Zack Fields, right, both Anchorage Democrats, joined a news conference Thursday to talk up President Joe Biden’s agenda in Alaska. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Democratic state lawmakers praise Biden’s impact in Alaska

Officials cite COVID relief and infrastructure benefits

Two Democratic state lawmakers joined White House officials for an online news conference Thursday, to talk up President Joe Biden’s agenda in Alaska.

Sen. Tom Begich and Rep. Zack Fields, both of Anchorage, spoke alongside Anchorage-raised Deputy Secretary of the Interior Tommy Beaudreau to discuss the benefits to the state from the American Rescue Plan Act and the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, now known as the bipartisan infrastructure law.

Lawmakers said federal relief money had kept the state afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The American Rescue Plan act saved Alaska from a fiscal crisis,” Fields said at the conference, which was held electronically. “It’s nothing short of a miracle a couple of years later, and now we see growth on the horizon.”

Both Fields and Begich gave extensive praise to Alaska’s congressional delegation, all Republicans who voted in favor of both the rescue money and the infrastructure bill amid pressure from others in the GOP.

Fields said the infrastructure bill “would be a lifetime achievement for any member of Congress in any era, and with such nasty partisanship on social media, it is all the more extraordinary.”

In an interview with the Empire, Begich acknowledged the political motivation behind the press conferences but said it was a good opportunity to speak with White House officials and communicate the state’s needs. Begich said he spoke with Saki Ververis of the White House Office of Public Engagement regarding Alaska’s ability to capture incoming federal infrastructure money and a workforce to build the projects.

[Juneau schools to make masks optional starting April 4]

“Specifically about veteran job placement,” Begich said. “We don’t have a workforce right now that could take on these jobs. What are we doing to try to move veterans into some of these fields?”

Begich said state and local authorities told federal officials in a closed-door meeting they’re eager to know how much money they’re going to need to match federal infrastructure dollars, which the administration hasn’t yet been able to provide. With that information, state lawmakers could draft budgets with that funding in mind, Begich said.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy has struck a decidedly different tone in his remarks about the Biden administration. At a news conference Tuesday the governor accused the administration of trying to suppress Alaska’s right to statehood. Dunleavy has made similar remarks in his State of the State address, but Democratic lawmakers were quick to note the governor’s proposed budget is packed with federal relief dollars.

Alaska’s congressional delegation, too, has been critical of Biden’s environmental policy — U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, said environmentalists were waging a “holy war” on American energy — but has also cautioned against partisanship as the state tries to take advantage of the infrastructure package.

Beaudreau noted during the conference U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski is hosting a grant symposium in Anchorage on April 11, and encouraged state and local leaders to attend. The event is free.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

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