Last Wednesday, Senator Mark Begich hosted a community meeting at Democratic headquarters in Anchorage. Invited were all friends, members, and allies of Anchorage’s LGBT community, who turned out in good numbers for the event.
Part campaign rally, part potluck, the meeting took place in a crowded back room of the Democratic campaign, where a table full of food offset a wall-size poster of Begich’s campaign. Roughly 50 people crowded into a room where Senator Begich was introduced by Fairview Community Council President and LGBT activist Christopher Constant, who emphasized the importance of the Senator’s campaign to the queer community in Alaska.
Constant described the history of Senator Begich’s career in Alaska politics, where as an Anchorage Assemblyman he supported an ordinance that would have enshrined sexual orientation in the city’s nondiscrimination laws. The issue was divisive, and toxic statements from opposing groups led to many Assemblymen and women losing their seats. Constant also urged those present at the potluck to participate in this year’s election, to drive the vote and convince notoriously shy midterm Democratic voters to come out for an important election.
As an Alaskan, he argued, such a move typified the state’s welcoming “live and let live” attitude towards same sex couples in what he used hand-quotes to describe as a “red state.”
“People said the sky was falling, and you know what? It didn’t cause a crisis. The sky didn’t fall.”
That was his attitude going into the debate surrounding discrimination over sexual orientation, where the Anchorage Assembly sought (unsuccessfully) to be a pioneer in adding the category to the city’s nondiscrimination clause 1993. Since then, Begich elaborated, he has been a strong voice for the city and the state’s LGBT minorities, who are often at risk for homelessness, depression, and discrimination.
Senator Begich is the slightly favored contestant for Alaska’s junior seat in the U.S. Senate. He is running for re-election in a race that Republicans hope to win, angling to flip control of the Senate. While the race is close, recent Public Policy Polling has him ahead by a slight lead. All of the Senator’s prospective Republican opponents, duking it out in a grueling primary, have signed on as opponents of same sex marriage. Alaskan pollsters from both sides of the aisle have credited Begich with running an efficient ground game while his opponents concentrate on winning the primary.
Lt. Gov Mead Treadwell, former US Senate candidate and magistrate Joe Miller, and former Alaska Attorney General Dan Sullivan all signed pledges to back an amendment to the US Constitution to ban same sex marriage, arguing that such protections are necessary for American society and stable family households. They have largely ignored the evidence supporting the health, success and normalcy of LGBT households.
Alaska is one state where, despite an existing ban on same sex marriage, public support overwhelmingly leans towards legalizing same sex marriage, riding a growing number of court opinions and a large change in public views of the issue. Senator Begich is gambling that this distinction, as well as other social issues, will set him apart from his opponents, as they seek to capture the Republican Party nomination.