It isn't the first time an Alaska senator has chastised a colleague for a lack of understanding about his non-contiguous state.
Sen. Mark Begich lit into fellow Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri after she sent a letter to the Small Business Administration administrator seeking details about the use of a small and disadvantaged business contracting program by Alaska Native Corporations.
"It's no secret many senators still have quite the learning curve when it comes to understanding the unique needs of Alaska. What is especially troubling are those who refuse to take the time to understand our needs and challenges while continuing to take actions intended to unfairly punish and target our way of life," Begich said in a statement. "I'm afraid my colleague, Senator McCaskill — through her narrow lens as a 'government oversight and efficiencies guru' — has trouble understanding Alaska history, even with my repeated attempts to reason with her."
The feud between Begich and McCaskill isn't new — the Missouri Democrat has gone after the treatment of the businesses owned by Alaska natives in the 8(a) contracting program before — but Wednesday's comments from Begich are scathing, nonetheless.
"As you know, in the 1980s and 1990s, Congress passed a series of laws which made ANCs eligible for federal contracting opportunities, including SBA's 8(a) program," McCaskill wrote in her letter dated June 30. "Since then, many ANCs have grown to the multi-million dollar corporations that are among the largest federal contractors. In 2009, I held a hearing that highlighted my concerns about ANCs' participation in the 8(a) program, including a lack of oversight by SBA, the use of ANCs to circumvent the federal contracting process, and that the benefits were not reaching disadvantaged Alaskan natives."
In his statement, Begich said that the success of the corporations is no reason to take actions that would undercut their eligibility for the SBA program.
"The benefits they provide through the 8(a) program, including scholarships, services, jobs and dividends, support some of the most economically challenged areas of the country and improves the lives of thousands," he said. "Just because ANC's have seen economic growth and success, as they were intended to do, doesn't mean they deserve this type of targeted attack from a sitting senator who simply refuses to try and understand the history and culture of a great state like Alaska."
McCaskill hasn't been alone in criticizing the application of the 8(a) program to Alaska Native Corporations, which the Washington Post explored back in 2010. The Post reported that, like with many programs in Alaska, then-Sen. Ted Stevens pushed for the eligibility . Begich is seeking re-election in 2014 in a race that is rated Tilts Democratic by the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call. Alaska's native population was widely viewed as a significant constituency for Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski retaining her seat in a virtually unprecedented write-in campaign back in 2010. Murkowski has also long championed the role of the Alaska Native Corporations.