JUNEAU — Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell on Tuesday announced plans to seek the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Democrat Mark Begich, saying Alaska would be better served with Republicans in charge.
As long as Democrats control the Senate, Treadwell said serious consideration will never be given to opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling, something Alaska political leaders — including Begich — support. He said Alaskans also would be better served with Sen. Lisa Murkowski in charge of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Murkowski, Alaska’s senior senator, is currently the ranking member.
Treadwell, a former chairman of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission, said he thinks Alaskans want a “unified delegation.” Begich is the three-member delegation’s lone Democrat.
“It’s not just money out of Washington” that’s important for Alaska, Treadwell said. “It’s the power out of Washington and the self-determination we thought we got with statehood that I’m not hearing from Mark Begich, and I don’t think we’re hearing from a Senate that is controlled by Democrats, that doesn’t believe in state’s rights.”
Begich said he is able to carry positions he holds — like on drilling in the arctic refuge — into his caucus and make a case. He said if you were to ask five years ago, when he was running for office, if the Arctic would be open for any type of development, the answer predominantly would have been no. But he said that’s now moving forward. He cited other examples, too, like protecting the missile defense system at Fort Greely and ensuring permanent reauthorization of the Indian health care act.
He said the important part is having a Republican and Democrat work together for Alaska. He said he and Murkowski understand the state and “have an incredible ability to bring Alaska issues to both caucuses and get results. And I think that’s what we’ve been doing.”
“It’s not about the party,” he told The Associated Press. “It’s about the ability to represent Alaska to both caucuses and get our positions heard.”
Treadwell, 57, becomes the second major Republican candidate to announce plans to run next year for a seat that Republicans see as critical to their hopes of regaining control of the Senate. Joe Miller, a tea party favorite during his unsuccessful 2010 challenge to Murkowski, announced last month. Speculation also has surrounded Natural Resources commissioner and former state attorney general Dan Sullivan.
Treadwell, in his announcement statement, said his campaign will focus on three principles: fighting to reverse the Obama administration’s “relentless assault” on families and freedoms; seeking “fiscal sanity” in Washington and fighting for Alaska.
In an interview, he said he is a conservative and privacy advocate who believes government’s “first job is to protect liberty.”
Begich defeated then-U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens to win the seat in 2008, shortly after Stevens was convicted on corruption charges. A judge later tossed the conviction due to prosecutorial errors, and “all of the reason why he was beaten disappeared,” Treadwell said.
“Let’s make sure we have the next election that doesn’t turn on interference by the Justice Department,” he said.
Begich said he doesn’t believe his election came with an asterisk. He said, at the end of the day, voters decide elections.
Treadwell figures he will have to raise “several” million dollars to win the seat, something he believes he can do. Begich ended the latest fundraising period with $1.5 million on hand, while Miller had about $425,000 available, left over from his prior run.
Treadwell said he has the “practical background and philosophical integrity” to appeal to various elements of the state Republican party, libertarians and those who believe government has a role in promoting commerce. “I’ll put my record up against anybody,” he said.
Democrats sought to cast Treadwell as affluent and out-of-touch, with state party chair Mike Wenstrup, in a release, taking a swipe at Treadwell’s travels while in office and saying he’s done “nothing for Alaska except trying to make it harder to vote.”
Treadwell oversees elections in Alaska, and last year the state sued over provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act, which require states with a history of discrimination to get Justice Department approval for redistricting plans or proposed election changes. The state argued the requirement is unwarranted and that no evidence exists to indicate Alaska should be considered among other states or jurisdictions “where voting discrimination has been most flagrant.”
Treadwell has called the approval requirement a “federal intrusion” into state elections that is “unnecessary, burdensome, and unconstitutional.” The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide a related case soon.
Treadwell, who was elected lieutenant governor in 2010, said he will serve out the remainder of his term. He said there are a number of things he wants to continue work on, including making Alaska elections more accessible to voters overseas and in rural parts of the state, pushing for greater progress to ensure safe shipping in the Arctic, and continuing to work on priorities of Gov. Sean Parnell’s administration, such as getting a deal on a natural gas pipeline, getting more oil through the trans-Alaska pipeline and working to combat domestic violence.
“I won’t be a no-show on those issues,” he said.