Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK), one of the more vulnerable Democrats in this fall’s midterm elections, was unusually harsh last week when he criticized his fellow Democrat, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), for scrutinizing the federal contracts of Alaska Native Corporations despite his “repeated attempts to reason with her.”
It was an uncharacteristically abrasive tone for Begich to strike with another Democrat. But in the context of his re-election race, it makes more sense. His campaign’s message has focused on Alaskan issues — like energy and fishing policy — and battling another Democrat is never a bad look for a Democrat in a otherwise red state.
Now a follow-up letter sent by Begich on Tuesday and the accompanying statement from McCaskill suggests that McCaskill, while legitimately pursuing an issue that she’s studied for six years, is also content to let Begich score a few political points at home.
Both sides win: McCaskill assumes the oversight role that the former state auditor relishes, and Begich gets to publicly fight on behalf of a popular program back home.
In his letter sent Tuesday, Begich took a more conciliatory approach. “If your principle goal is to initiate a pathway for Congress to act on contracting reform, let’s work together to do so for the entire federal government,” he wrote, “rather than continuing to hone in on a single program that is delivering essential economic benefits as intended.”
McCaskill’s office had previously declined to respond to Begich’s public rebuke. But asked by TPM about the letter, McCaskill called her colleague a “problem” in a prepared statement. Though, to Alaska’s voters, he might not sound like much of a problem at all.
“I’ve fought for six years to change the law in regard to Alaska Native Corporations,” she said in the statement. “There has consistently been one problem—Mark Begich. He single-handedly protects Alaska and the ANCs.”
McCaskill first raised questions about ANC’s, businesses entities set up to benefit native Alaskan tribes and bequeathed with unique benefits for federal contracting bids, in 2009. After a 2010 Washington Post investigation that found benefits were not reaching the intended population, she introduced legislation to effectively gut those contracting perks. The bill never made it past the committee stage.
Back in 2010, Begich portrayed the McCaskill bill as “misguided” and “misinformed.” The feud then reappeared on the public stage last week when McCaskill sent her letter to the SBA, and Begich released his scathing public statement.
Now McCaskill’s “problem” retort might be enough keep things going.