ANCHORAGE - When Alaska’s U.S. senators address the state legislature annually, usually the highlights are a summary of what's happening in Washington, D.C.
But Monday Democratic Senator Mark Begich told the Republican-led Legislature that it has gotten a few things wrong this session.
While describing himself as a strong supporter of the second amendment, Begich dismissed a bill passed by the House declaring new federal gun laws null and void in Alaska.
"I mean, it's a statement; it's unconstitutional. Your own legislative body lawyers have told you that. It doesn't make any -- but I get it. It’s a statement. So any time we don't want federal overreach, I'm all for that. I'm happy to say that that's the statement there, and I'm happy to say go for it. But it's irrelevant, to be frank with you, because it's not constitutional."
Begich, the son of educators, also took issue with a constitutional amendment under consideration to permit public funding of private schools.
"When we invest the time and the resources, these kids are excited about school. They want to learn. But if we ignore it by squeezing dollars and saying well that system's broken, let's do something else, if you're a kid going to school and all you hear from policy-makers is the school I go to is no good, what do you think they think? We have to believe in what's possible."
And the senator also said he opposes a bill that would require photo IDs at election polls, a measure that he said would constitute a burden for Alaska Natives in the Bush.
"And let's be honest: There is not a problem here. Unless I missed it in all the elections I’ve been involved, I haven't seen the fraud that people talk about."
At a news conference afterward, Begich said he always speaks his mind. "I think my staff will tell you, you give me 30 minutes of un-scripted or even scripted, anything can happen." It’s an address legislators are unlikely to forget, as evidenced by the response from House State Affairs Committee Chair Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, who asserted Begich had his facts wrong about the voter identification bill.
Begich also took a shot at Congress, calling the budget sequester “a lazy dysfunctional approach” to the deficit problem.
Begich voted for the sequester back in 2011. His press secretary says he believed at the time it would force a more sensible budget solution.