From top to bottom, the Alaska Republicans' brand has become quite tarnished in recent years -- unsurprisingly so given the lack of scruples with which GOP politicians in the state have undertaken their jobs. Karl Vick has a bit of a rundown of the situation in the state on the front page of The Washington Post today.
When the FBI came looking for corruption in Alaska politics, it found an excellent perch in Suite 604 of the Baranof Hotel in Juneau, the state capital. There, a profane septuagenarian named Bill Allen did business throughout a 2006 special session called to set taxes on the oil industry. With hundred-dollar bills in his front pocket for ease of access when lawmakers turned up with their hands out, the oil-services company executive turned in a bravura performance before the pinhole camera that federal agents installed opposite his favorite chair.
"Let me count first here," Allen said, shushing a former statehouse speaker as he counted out a bribe in video footage entered as evidence in the lawmaker's September trial, one of several crowding the docket of the federal court here.
On another tape, Pete Kott, the former Republican speaker of the Alaska House of Representatives, crowed as he described beating back a tax bill opposed by oil companies. "I had to cheat, steal, beg, borrow and lie," Kott said. "Exxon's happy. BP's happy. I'll sell my soul to the devil."
Officially, the scandal has remained confined to Juneau, where Alaska lawmakers had grown so accustomed to operating under the presumption of impropriety that several of them embroidered ball caps with the letters CBC, for "Corrupt Bastards Club." (An Anchorage coffeehouse now offers Corrupt Bastards Brew.) But with signs that the investigation is brushing against Alaska's lone congressman, Don Young (R), and its longtime and venerated senator Ted Stevens (R), residents of the Last Frontier are experiencing a rare spasm of soul-searching.
Just how bad are things for Young, for instance? Check out the Anchorage Daily News.
Now Young's campaign donations are going for another purpose. He's spent nearly $450,000 on criminal defense lawyers so far this year after he learned of an FBI investigation into his relationships with political donors, who include a Florida real estate developer seeking a highway ramp near his undeveloped land.
Young's problems aren't just legal at this point. As a result of all of the poor press that he has been receiving in recent months, Young has also seen his standing among Alaska voters fall precipitously, with his favorable rating falling from 51 percent in April to 33 percent in February. With up and coming Democrat Ethan Berkowitz, a former state Representative who was his party's Lieutentant Governor nominee in 2006, in the race and actually leading Young 51 percent to 45.5 percent, it looks like Young's seat is very much up for grabs.
That's not the only problem for the Republicans in the state. Senator Ted Stevens, whose numbers have also taken a real hit, is reported to be under federal investigation for his improprieties. And according to Markos, Stevens may (relatively) soon get as strong a challenger as he's ever seen.
A source close to Begich told me that Begich asked some of those Senators about schools in the area -- evidence that he's seriously considering the bid.
I talked to multiple sources in DC and Alaska with insight into this race, and the consensus is that Begich is seriously leaning toward a run, but is in no hurry to announce. An Alaska source says the final decision will be made in the next two months, so as to give another candidate a chance if he passes. So I think we can assume if we hear nothing from Begich by the end of the calendar year, it's because he's decided to make the race.
In that eventuality, Begich plans on holding off as late as he can to make an announcement. His camp is confident in Begich's fundraising capabilities that, coupled with the low cost of television in the state, he can be most effective in a short race (it's how he ran and won his mayoral race after two previous losses). The filing deadline in Alaska is June 2, 2008, though he's not expected to wait that long.
Expect any official announcement to come between March and May 2008. But again, if we hear nothing from Begich by the end of the year, we can probably assume he's running.
Begich's numbers statewide are actually pretty good
-- better, in fact, than those of Stevens. In a sense, the biggest concern for Democrats in this race is that Stevens will opt not to run for reelection or loses a renomination battle early enough in the campaign that a stronger Republican is able to replace him on the ballot. But aside from this concern, this would be one of the better pick up opportunities for the Democrats in 2008 in the case of a Begich candidacy.