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Begich sees himself as alternative in race for Alaska governor: Interview

TMS:So why’d you decide to get into the race?

Begich: “First off, I have thought about this the last few months and gone back and forth trying to figure out what’s the right decision. Deborah, our son, Jacob, and I and a group of friends sat and talked about it a lot on Tuesday (before the filing deadline) and realized this isn’t about us and what’s good for us, but it became very clear to me that I can’t continue to stand by and watch our state slowly deteriorate and be at the level it’s at when I know we can do better.

I decided it’s bigger than me and bigger than our family, and it’s really about what’s important for Alaska. I decided to get in and put my ideas out there and I believe offer a vision for Alaska into the future versus just these daily skirmishes that it seems like the governor and the Legislature have. To be frank with you, all the people on that side that’s all they’re about. The people running (for governor) outside the Democratic ticket are all former legislators or people who have been in Juneau, and I believe Alaska can be better. Over time we’ll be laying out our positions and our plans, but for now it’s really about letting people know you have an alternative.”

TMS: The reaction to your entry has been mixed. What would you say to the people who say you’re handing the race over to Republican front runner Mike Dunleavy?

Begich: “First, I’d say we don’t know if Dunleavy is going to be in there. Mead Treadwell, who’s another former Juneau person as the lieutenant governor, is also in the race. I understand he’s going to have a super PAC supporting him, so there’s going to be a lot activity over there. I don’t know if Dunleavy is going to be there or not, but that’s not really what it’s about.

You think about this governor’s race, it’s been kinda big deal, ho hum. We’ve entered the race and it’s added some excitement. There are people–young people especially–and say ‘You’ve given us a choice, something to vote for.’ That’s what’s really different, I’ve seen people come to me and say, ‘I keep having to vote against somebody.’ This time, they hopefully get to vote for somebody. I want to give them an alternative that they can feel proud and excited about.”

The campaign will unfold, and there are people who’re trying to figure out what this will mean. But we can’t vote our fears, we have to vote what we’re for.”

TMS: It seems as long as there’s been a governor’s race on the radar, there’s been rumors that you’d get in. How did that decision unfold for you?

Begich: “People who know me, know I take the time to think about these things and engage people in the conversation. When I ran for mayor and won, it was two days before the filing deadline. When I ran for the U.S. Senate in 2008, it was the same year as the election. It was late April and the election primary was August. This one, again I’m not someone who’s just going to jump in because I need some ego fix, if I’m going to do this because I believe that I can set aside what I’m doing in our lives and there’s something that I can do and offer to the state.

When the elections occur in November, the voters will make this call. Did I present them with an alternative that they feel good about? That they want to vote for? I have to leave it up to the voters to make this decision, but decisions like this are not easy. They take a lot of thought, and I just felt like–especially after this last session–they don’t have a long-term fix on the budget, crime is at the highest level it’s ever been in the state and we have thousands–3-4,000–people that have left the state.

65 percent of Alaskans feel we’re headed in the wrong direction. These are not the kind of statistics that make a great state. All that with other comments from people made me feel like this is really about Alaska, and I need to put aside my needs and the family needs, and spend the next five and a half months and see if we can make the case for what’s important.”

TMS: There’s been plenty of talk about a progressive “Blue Wave.” Do you think that’ll be at play with your race?

Begich: “Some call it a blue wave, I call it the positive wave. People are fed up with this negative, naysaying, knuckle-dragging attitude about what’s not possible. People want something new and fresh that they can say, ‘I want to be for something’ and look beyond the moment and beyond the day-to-day street fights that are going around and figure out what we’re going to do in the long-term.

There’s a lot of this going not only around the country, but right here in Alaska. If you look at the latest mayor’s race in Anchorage, Ethan Berkowitz talked about what’s possible and his opponent talked about how bad the world is and how we need to take it backwards. This positive wave that’s hitting is refreshing and it’s who I am, it’s what I’m about. People can put me in the worst situation, and I’m going to say, ‘What’s possible and what are we going to do here?’ That’s what we have to have more of.”