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Begich Prepares for Spotlight With Seat in Leadership

Douglas Graham/Roll Call
Sen. Mark Begich is viewed as an unofficial and self-appointed emissary between leadership and Democratic Members elected in 2006 and 2008. Begich will have a more formal role in leadership next Congress as the fifth-ranking Senate Democrat.

Sen. Mark Begich has barely been in the Senate two years, but the Alaska Democrat has aggressively thrust himself into everything from the 2009 economic stimulus to global warming deliberations to internal Democratic caucus changes. So it may seem strange to hear him say that he wasn’t angling for his new gig in Democratic leadership.

“I didn’t ask for it,” Begich said in an interview Friday. But he acknowledged that he might have a unique point of view to bring to the table as he prepares to become the No. 5 leader and chairman of the party’s Steering and Outreach Committee.

“I’ve always recommended structural changes and ... how we get our issues out there and what do we talk about,” Begich said about his outspoken role as a Member of the 2008 class and unofficial emissary to leadership for junior Members. He added that, “They’re asking me to be part of a team because I bring a different perspective that, I think, they recognize was missing.”

The No. 4 Democratic leader, Conference Secretary and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (Wash.), said Begich was chosen for his “thoughtful voice in our caucus.”

She added: “I think he represents a really good piece of how we want our party to look. ... I think he just is a very pragmatic voice and looks at policy in a way that I think is refreshing.”

Still, some Democrats wonder whether Begich made the right choice by joining the ranks of leadership so early in his tenure, given that Alaska trends Republican in most cycles.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), who batted back entreaties to join the party leadership as DSCC chairman, praised Begich for taking the job, given his “red-state” perspective and ability to “bridge the gap between the newer classes and more senior Members.”

But when asked whether it was a smart political move for Begich, Warner said, “Time will tell.”

Begich said he would continue to defy leadership when necessary, noting he has bucked the party on oil and gas issues, gun rights and fiscal concerns. “When I was asked by a couple of Members would I be interested [in Steering], you know, I said, ‘If it helps out, but I’m not changing my stripes,’” he said. “Being in that fifth position does not mean that suddenly I’m a different person. If that’s the case, then I’m not interested.”

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