Mark Peter Begich (born March 30, 1962) is the junior United States Senator from Alaska and a member of the Democratic Party. A former mayor of Anchorage, he served on the Anchorage Assembly for almost ten years prior to being elected mayor in 2003. In the highly competitive 2008 Alaska Senate election, Begich defeated incumbent Ted Stevens, the longest serving Republican member of the Senate of all time. Born in Anchorage, he is the son of U.S. Representative Nick Begich, who disappeared and was presumed dead following a 1972 plane crash. He graduated from high school and has taken continuing education classes at University of Alaska Anchorage, but does not have a college degree. At age 26 he was elected to the Anchorage Assembly. After serving as chairman for three years, he left the Assembly in 1998. Begich ran two unsuccessful campaigns for mayor in 1994 and 2000. He was finally elected in 2003, winning a narrow three-way race by 11 votes. Begich handily won the Democratic nomination in the state's 2008 U.S. Senate election. He faced longtime incumbent Republican Ted Stevens, who was facing ethics and corruption charges during his re-election campaign. Stevens was convicted of felony violations a week before the election, and Begich won by a narrow margin. A member of the Moderate Dems Working Group, Begich is considered a moderate Democrat. He is pro-choice and supports ANWR drilling, gun rights, and benefits for same-sex couples. He opposes the Patriot Act. Begich has generally supported President Barack Obama's legislative agenda, including the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2009 and the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010. Begich became the Chairman of the Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee in 2011.
Begich was born in Anchorage at the old Providence Hospital, and is the first person born in Anchorage to be elected as the city's mayor. He is the son of former U.S. Representative Nick Begich, who disappeared (and was declared legally dead) in October 1972 during a flight from Anchorage to Juneau with then House Majority Leader Hale Boggs. The fourth child of six born to Nick and Pegge Begich; he has two sisters and three brothers. His Croatian paternal grandfather John Begich immigrated to the United States from Austria–Hungary (today Croatia) in 1911.
He attended Steller Secondary School in Anchorage. Begich has taken continuing education classes at University of Alaska Anchorage without graduating. As of 2009, Begich is the only U.S. Senator without a college degree.
Early political career
Begich was elected to the Anchorage Assembly in 1988, at age 26, and served until 1998, including three years as chairman and two as vice chairman. In 1989, Begich led the opposition to the sale of the municipally-owned Anchorage Telephone Utility (ATU) to private interests.
ATU was eventually sold in 1999 (after Begich had left the Assembly). Begich was also one of the chief sponsors of the introduction of photo radar. Begich served for a number of years on the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education, including as its chair. In 2001, Governor Tony Knowles appointed Begich to the University of Alaska Board of Regents, but the Legislature did not confirm the appointment. He ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 1994 against Rick Mystrom, and in 2000 against then-Assemblyman George Wuerch. In the 2003 mayoral race he narrowly defeated both Mystrom and Wuerch, earning only 11 votes over the number needed to win, due to a simultaneously approved law increasing the threshold needed to avoid a runoff election from 40 to 45 percent. He was re-elected in April 2006, winning against local advertising and radio personality Jack Frost. Though the office is officially nonpartisan, Begich is the first Democrat to be elected Mayor of the Municipality of Anchorage since Tony Knowles, who was later elected to two terms as Governor of Alaska. Begich is a former member of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns Coalition. His split from the mayor's group was well-publicized.
On February 27, 2008, Begich announced that he was forming an exploratory committee to run for the United States Senate. After winning the Democratic nomination, he went on to face Republican incumbent Ted Stevens in the general election. The polls showed the race to be leaning for Begich due to Stevens' indictment and later felony convictions. On November 18, 2008, the Associated Press called the election for Begich, who was leading and likely to win by more than the 0.5% margin needed to trigger an automatic recount, with the remainder of uncounted ballots originating from the Anchorage area. Stevens conceded the race the next day. Begich's victory over Stevens in the 2008 Senate elections made him the first Democrat to represent Alaska in either chamber of the United States Congress since Mike Gravel, who was defeated in the Democratic primary in 1980 and left the Senate in 1981 upon the expiration of his term. Begich is the first Croatian-American elected to the United States Senate. He is also the first Mayor of Anchorage to be elected to the Senate. Begich's father, Nick Begich, was the last Democrat to represent Alaska in the U.S. House of Representatives, which he did until he was declared legally dead at the end of 1972, following his disappearance along with Boggs earlier that year. Stevens's conviction was later set aside due to prosecutorial misconduct. Alaska Republican Party chairman Randy Ruedrich issued a call for Begich to resign so a special election could be held. Ruedrich argued that Begich's win was illegitimate because of "improper influence from the 'corrupt' Department of Justice." The same day Governor Sarah Palin seconded Ruedrich's call, although she later denied having said Begich should resign. Begich said in a statement that he intends to serve his full six-year term.
Begich's political views are considered to be moderate. He is a member of the Moderate Dems Working Group. He is in favor of ANWR drilling and a supporter of gun rights. He is pro-choice, supports benefits for same-sex couples (though it is unclear if he supports same-sex marriage), opposes the Patriot Act, and claims to "generally" oppose the death penalty while acknowledging to sometimes "evolve on that issue". Begich supported President Barack Obama's health reform legislation; he voted for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in December 2009, and he voted for the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010. Begich became the Chairman of the Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee in 2011. On December 18, 2010, Begich voted in favor of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010.