In the Driver’s Seat

Posted February 27, 2008 at 6:51pm

Forget being a state legislator, or a do-good attorney, or even a teacher or a small-business man. Here’s a novel career track that’s propelled a few public-office seekers to success: chauffeur.

[IMGCAP(1)]Just ask Mark Begich, the mayor of Anchorage, Alaska, who is likely to be the Democratic challenger looking to knock out Republican (very) incumbent Sen. Ted Stevens. Begich got his foot in the car door of politics when he landed a job that included chauffeuring then-Anchorage Mayor Tony Knowles during one of his re-election campaigns.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty also had a stint as a driver, although his assignment lasted only a few days. But his passenger was auspicious. In the late 1980s, Pawlenty ferried around none other than Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) when the Senator visited

Minnesota, a Pawlenty pal tells HOH. The governor now is being whispered about as a possible running mate for McCain, who’s the frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination.

Begich’s duties included driving Knowles around to various engagements and keeping the notoriously tardy mayor on schedule, says Leslie Ridle, his director of constituent relations. He got the job when, as a 19-year-old employee in the city’s health and social services department, he got called to the mayor’s office. “He thought that was how they fired people,” Ridle says. Instead, Knowles, impressed by the persistent letters the young man had been sending the mayor’s office about the lack of youth programs, offered him a job.

The experience apparently paid off. Not only did Begich get to know his way around the city as well as any cab driver, but he also picked up a few tricks of the trade by watching the mayor at work. This couldn’t have hurt when he himself was elected to the city’s highest office in 2003.

Knowles went on to become governor of Alaska, and Begich won a seat in the city’s assembly in 1988 at the age of 26. It wasn’t all in the motor oil, though — politics is in Begich’s blood. His father was former Democratic Rep. Nick Begich, who died in a plane crash when the younger Begich was 10 years old.

Pawlenty’s stint as a driver wasn’t as long as Begich’s, but it apparently made an impression. Pawlenty recalls that McCain was in the state to promote veterans causes and that he volunteered for the job of driving the visiting Senator around, the Pawlenty source says. “He’s been a longtime admirer of Sen. McCain’s and he was excited at the opportunity to play driver,” the source added.

Saddle Up. With partisan bickering the norm these days, it sure is reassuring to know that Democrats and Republicans can come together on the really important issues. You know, the ones that really matter to the American people.

How nice, then, to see the two sides rallying to a common cause and introducing a bipartisan bill designating July 26, 2008, as “National Day of the Cowboy.” The legislation, which Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) introduced Feb. 13, honors the “pioneering men and women, known as cowboys” for various patriotic contributions, including their “strength of character” and stewardship of the land.

And here’s a fun cowboy fact to trot out at the next cocktail party: According to the resolution, “rodeo is the 7th most watched sport in the Nation.”

Giffords spokesman C.J. Karamargin tells HOH that Republicans and Democrats have found common ground. “Who can disagree about the importance of cowboys?” he asks.

Yee-haw!

Lieberman Hearts Buckley. As if there wasn’t already little love lost between Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) and his Democratic colleagues, Lieberman managed to secure his place on their least-favorite list on Wednesday by taking to the Senate floor to pay lavish tribute to conservative lion William F. Buckley.

Lieberman had extravagant praise for his friend Buckley, who died Wednesday. He extolled the National Review founder’s belief that “ideas matter” and lauded his “civility” and his “puckishness,” calling Buckley’s failed bid to be New York mayor “an elegant, eloquent exercise.”

Lieberman recalled how Buckley endorsed him in his first run for Senate in 1988. And when Lieberman won by a slim margin, he said he credited his victory to the conservative’s stamp of approval. Though the two sometimes disagreed, Lieberman said their relationship remained strong. “One could never lose affection, or dare I say love, for William F. Buckley,” Lieberman said.

The same probably couldn’t be said for Democrats, who frequently were the target of Buckley’s pen.

Murphy’s Jam Session. Who said artists have all the fun? Rep. Tim Murphy doesn’t buy it. The Pennsylvania Republican, who plays the guitar, joined musicians on the Hill lobbying for the MusicFirst Coalition in an impromptu jam session, according to an HOH tipster. Murphy was spotted in a hallway of the Cannon Building around lunchtime, picking up his guitar and playing a duet with local artist Willem Dicke in a rendition of Paul Simon’s “Mrs. Robinson.”

The Stars Are Coming, the Stars Are Coming! Celebs hanging around the Capitol grounds are a dime a dozen (Pete Wentz who?), but next week, expect to see some genuine Hollywood A-listers in our humble marble halls. Tom Hanks and Paul Giamatti will screen their new HBO miniseries about the life of John Adams in the Cannon Caucus Room on Wednesday night, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Members in attendance. Hanks executive produces and Giamatti stars as the Founding Father.

Author David McCullough, who wrote the book upon which the series is based, will attend, too.

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