Congressional candidate Nick Begich III said he hopes to bring back a fiscal conservatism that’s been missing from Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska’s nearly five decades in office. In an interview with the Empire Wednesday, Begich said he would bring revitalized energy to Alaska’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Begich, 44, who had previously worked for Young’s campaign, said when he announced his candidacy his campaign wasn’t about Don Young, but about the need for generational change. Still, Begich said, there were some key differences between his and Young’s approaches to policy.
“Don Young has rarely seen a spending program that he doesn’t like,” Begich told the Empire in a phone interview Wednesday. “There’s just been no fiscal discipline.”
Begich cited the recent $1.3 trillion infrastructure bill, which he said had enormous amounts of wasteful spending that would burden future generations by increasing the national debt. Alaska received benefits from the bill, Begich said, but there was a missed opportunity to make Alaska the leading edge of future energy transition.
“Alaska got less than 1% of the bill,” he said. “Alaska got shortchanged in the bill.”
Because the infrastructure bill was about building a platform for development, Begich said the state should have received a higher portion due to its size.
“On a per-acre basis we got the least of anyone,” Begich said.
After the bill’s passage, Young and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, —one of the bill’s key negotiators in the Senate — touted the package’s benefits to Alaska. In a statement, Young said the bill “wasn’t perfect” but cited its benefits to rural Alaska and the Alaska Marine Highway System among his reasons for an affirmative vote.
Alaska needs new and younger energy, Begich said, commenting that Young doesn’t use email or social media —things essential to the 21st century. Similar to Young’s previous opponents, Begich cited Young’s absence from committee meetings and votes, and questioned whether Young had the energy required for the job.
“Seniority counts only if you show up to do the job,” Begich said. “Don Young is saying through his actions that he can’t do the job and he’s ready for a change.”
Begich faulted Alaska’s congressional delegation for failing to articulate Alaska’s potential for domestic resource production. Alaska should be “on the tip of the tongue” of the international community for resource development, Begich said, instead of nations like Russia and China.
Matt Shuckerow, an adviser to Young’s campaign, dismissed Begich’s claim the representative was signaling a readiness to exit or that he was less effective as a lawmaker. Young was critical to the passage of the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act allowing large cruise ships to travel to the state despite bans from the Canadian government, Shuckerow said.
“That gets done because Don Young knows the levers to pull and he has the respect of his colleagues,” Shuckerow said. “He’s running, he’s running hard. Don Young has and continues to deliver big.”
Young, 88, has been Alaska’s representative since 1973, when he took over from Begich’s grandfather and namesake who was declared dead after his plane went missing. Young is currently the longest-serving member of the U.S. House of Representatives and in November passed a record set by the former Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, D-Texas, to become the sixth longest-serving representative in the history of that body.
Begich’s uncles are both Alaska Democrats. Mark Begich served as Anchorage mayor from 2003-2009 and then as U.S. Senator from 2009-2015. State Sen. Tom Begich, D-Anchorage, is minority leader in the Alaska State Senate.
Begich joins an already crowded field for Young’s seat and is one of several Republicans. According to federal and state election filings, Young and Begich are joined in the race by Republican candidates Randy Purham, Gregg Brelsford and Shannon Scott Evans and Libertarian Chris Bye. No Democratic candidates have yet filed.
In 2020, Democrat-backed independent Alyse Galvin tried for the second time to unseat Young but lost by a larger margin than her first attempt.
“We’ve got to have someone who’s relevant to today and who comes to the challenges,” Begich said. “I’m excited about being that person for Alaska.”
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.