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A new face in Washington

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – After an extended count of ballots in Alaska, Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, 47, has been declared winner in his race against Senator Ted Stevens by more than 3,000 votes.

At the end of election day Begich trailed Stevens, after one day of counts of late votes, Begich was up by 3 votes, then by just over a thousand votes. It wasn’t until the majority of absentee and questioned votes were counted that Begich was declared the winner and Stevens conceded the race. Stevens has held his office in the U.S. Senate since 1968.

Begich will be the first Democrat to go to the U.S. Senate from Alaska in decades. He has consistently mentioned the service that Stevens has done for the state over his long tenure, but said it is time for a new generation to step forward.

In a campaign speech at the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Alaska Native Sisterhood Grand Camp in October, Begich said he hopes to continue the tradition of his father, Nick Begich, who served as Alaska’s Representative in the U.S. House before a plane carrying him and three others disappeared in 1972 when Mark Begich was 10 years old. Before his death, Begich said his father fought hard for the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

He said his father was a strong advocate for Native issues, and told Brotherhood and Sisterhood members that these issues are “not new found, they are deep in the roots of our family.” Begich noted his own support for a rural priority for subsistence hunting and fishing rights.

He also hopes to make changes in the No Child Left Behind Act, which he said has had negative impacts on rural Alaska. Begich wants to help design an education policy that will work in rural as well as urban areas and give communities more power to make decisions about their schools.

Among Begich’s other concerns are finding ways for Alaskans to have reasonable energy costs and to tap into its plentiful renewable energy resources. He added that Alaska is ground-zero for climate change where Native communities in rural Alaska are affected by melting of permafrost which compromises stability of buildings, village sites are disappearing due to increased erosion, and receding glaciers are causing drier forestlands that are now vulnerable to infestations of spruce bark beetles.

As the era of Ted Stevens ends, Begich asserts that he will continue to work for Alaska Native interests. Stevens has a lengthy list of legislation, programs and funding for rural projects to his credit, and Begich said he will also fight for rural Alaska and protect Alaska Native programs.

In his tenure as Mayor of Anchorage, Begich had recently advocated with the state for immediate assistance for rural villages as rural residents flooded into the cities. During his term as mayor he appointed a Rural Affairs Director in his office and was instrumental in the completion of the new Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center in downtown Anchorage, named to acknowledge local tribal communities.

In the House race, Democrat Ethan Berkowicz conceded to Republican Don Young who will be returning to the House to serve his 19th term.