If he was going for impact, he succeeded. Sen. Mark Begich’s annual remarks to the Legislature on Monday are still rebounding through the Capitol building. On Wednesday, Alaska Speaker of the House Mike Chenault sent out yet another press release about those remarks. Specifically, he responded to charges by the Alaska Democratic Party, which was responding to a Monday press release issued by Chenault.
To recap: Begich made remarks. Chenault responded. The Dems responded to Chenault. Chenault responded to them.
Note: For Chenault to respond at all is surprising and uncharacteristic. He’s a Republican, but his job demands that he be a bridge builder, and mostly he succeeds. That he did so either means that Begich and the Dems got under his skin or that he truly believes that Begich was out of line in his remarks. Or perhaps it’s a bit of both.
In any case, most of the heat in the debate surrounds education funding. Begich, weighing in on a state issue, scolded lawmakers over education funding and came out against a resolution that would let the public vote on changing the constitution to allow for public money to go to private institutions. It’s debatable if he over played his hand during those remarks, but coming down hard against school choice is smart. For one, it’ll help win the support of the NEA. Secondly, if the issue makes it on the general election ballot, it’ll bring out the Christian conservatives, who likely won’t support Begich.
Begich declined, however, to weigh in on another state matter: whether or not he supports repeal of an oil tax break passed last legislative session. In an election year, it’s a tough one for him. Support to repeal the oil tax bill has turned into a Democratic litmus test, much like support to repeal ObamaCare has turned into a litmus test for Republicans. However, he risks alienating Alaska business and big oil industry if he comes out for repeal.
On Monday, Chenault took issue with Begich’s remarks that the state needed to increase education funding, saying that he “wished to correct the record and call for clarity and results for Alaska, instead of more Beltway-style speeches.”
He also made reference to the upcoming race. “We need a senator that stands up for us, not one who only says he will, then votes with his party against Alaskans,” he said.
On Tuesday the Dems responded, accusing Chenault of engaging in “tired and misleading” attacks. “Any observer of Begich’s speech heard eye opening comments from Democratic and Republican members of the legislature recognizing Mark Begich as a fighter for Alaska,” Chair of Alaska’s Democratic Party Mike Wenstrup said.
The release also called Chenault’s “campaign-style press release” using his official state email “questionable.”
For his part, Chenault said that the Democratic response was “typical” of the Democratic Party. “Alaskans are tired of character attacks. And that’s what your press release is,” he said. “The fact is, Sen. Begich spoke before he knew the truth about education funding, and wouldn’t commit on oil taxes… public education funds, the dollars out the door to teach our kids, has never been higher.”
Read the Democratic press release as well as Chenault’s response in full below:
From the Democrats:
House Speaker Mike Chenault should have slept on his questionable decision to send a campaign-style press release from his official state office and akleg.gov email address slinging political attacks promoted by national Republican groups at U.S. Senator Mark Begich.
“We need a senator that stands up for us, not one who only says he will, then votes with his party against Alaskans,”Speaker Chenault said through his official legislative office, channeling tired attacks used by U.S. Senate candidates Mead Treadwell, Dan Sullivan and Joe Miller.
Chenault’s comments attacking Mark Begich drew praise from the Washington, D.C. National Republican Senatorial Committee, but ignored the content of Begich’s speech about successful efforts to expand mining oil and gas development in Alaska, protect the F-16’s at Eielson, save Alaska post offices and expand care for Alaska’s veterans.
Chenault’s colleagues, including Republican Senators John Coghill and Anna Fairclough, praised Begich after listening to his speech. Coghill specifically offered praise for Begich’s successful fight to retain F-16 fighters at Eielson Air Force Base in Fairbanks.
“If Mike Chenault had listened to Mark Begich’s speech he would have heard Begich’s record of accomplishment which puts Chenault’s tired and misleading political attacks to bed. Any observer of Begich’s speech heard eye opening comments from Democratic and Republican members of the legislature recognizing Mark Begich as a fighter for Alaska,” said Mike Wenstrup, Chair of the Alaska Democratic Party.
From House Speaker Mike Chenault:
“Here’s what I have to say to the Democratic Party: typical. Alaskans are tired of character attacks. And that’s what your press release is.
“You’ll notice they didn’t attack my facts. Facts matter. The truth matters. Especially when we as legislators have to make financial and policy decisions based on some of the choices our federal delegation makes.
“The fact is, Sen. Begich spoke before he knew the truth about education funding, and wouldn’t commit on oil taxes. The fact is, our Caucus and the governor have a strong record on education funding and have made a choice on oil taxes that we believe will lead to a boost to our bottom line and Alaskans’ bottom lines through jobs and opportunity.
“I’ll talk about our K-12 funding record every day, and won’t hesitate to correct the record when someone, regardless of what office or political viewpoint they hold, tries to mislead or misinform the public. The truth is, we’ve outpaced inflation – more than doubling it, fully-funding the foundation formula and then providing even more targeted funding for maintenance, retirement, transportation, and energy costs. Our funding lets districts better utilize the existing base student allocation. Flat funding is a myth. Unfortunately, it’s an easy sound byte that has stuck in people’s minds. The truth is completely different: public education funds, the dollars out the door to teach our kids, has never been higher.
“I’ve got broad shoulders; I’ve been called worse before. But you better be prepared to defend your facts and figures with me. If Sen. Begich has a problem with my comments or if my facts are wrong, I encourage him to call me personally. I’m not campaigning for or against anyone, despite what the Democratic Party has stated. I’m correcting the record. The Democratic Party shouldn’t have an issue with a sitting legislator defending himself when someone misleads people on his or his colleague’s record, period.”
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