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Mark Begich On How He Beat Ted Stevens

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NPR News' Morning Edition spoke with Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich the night of his win over Alaska Senator Ted Stevens. Begich told host Renee Montagne that while Stevens' felony conviction definitely played a role, it was mostly that Alaskans worried his "personal challenges" would distract him from state business.

MS. MONTAGNE: Well, we appreciate it, and you know, I think one of the first questions I think people have is, and certainly down in the lower 48 is, you have just overturned one of the longest political careers in the Senate's history. So much so that many of us know the name Ted Stevens. His name is on your airport there in Anchorage. How do you feel about having managed to defeat this person?

MR. BEGICH: Well, I think, you know when we started the campaign back in April of this year we focused on what options we would give the voters to make sure they have a choice, that they think about the future of Alaska. You know we're celebrating our 50th anniversary as a state this year, and people recognize the history of our great state. But they also see huge opportunities, and I believed I could offer an opportunity that would represent the Alaskans of the future.

MS. MONTAGNE: Now I do want to look ahead in this conversation to the future and what you would hope to be able to do. But before we move on to that, Senator Ted Stevens was convicted recently on seven felony charge. Alaska representative Don Young is under investigation by the FBI for corruption. How much were these corruption charges and Senator Stevens' conviction, how much did that effect, do you think, the vote?

MR. BEGICH: Well, I think in an odd way, it was a mixture. For example, with Ted Stevens, what we were facing was not just a case of, you know, was he going through a trial, but also, people really realized that even in a conviction situation, he would be facing the next year or two years of appeals and process through his caucus and many other things that would take away his focus from Alaska. I think that's what people were concerned about.

MS. MONTAGNE: They weren't concerned about sending, as some have put it, a convicted felon back to the Senate?

MR. BEGICH: Well, I think that's part of it, but I think also, you know, there was a lot of long-term history with Ted Stevens. You know 40 years he served our state and he did a lot of great service. But the last three or four years, I think, his focus was not really on what Alaskans needed. So I think the conviction played a role, but in an unusual way in the sense that people were concerned about where are we going to be as a state 30, 40 years from now and who can bring us down that path. And I think in the case of Ted Stevens, they were concerned that maybe he would not be able to do that because of his personal challenges that he had in front of him.

Begich also voiced strong support for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge:

MS. MONTAGNE: You know it's been suggested that President-elect Obama might be interested in a permanent ban on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. What's your position on that?

MR. BEGICH: Well, I would totally disagree. And I think you know that for him to make that statement this early would be a mistake. I think that we should first take a look at what's the energy policy of this country. How are we going to become more independent, as a country, from foreign oil?

MS. MONTAGNE: So just briefly though to turn that around, you would be in favor of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge?

MR. BEGICH: Absolutely. I've said that through the campaign that I think that's a reasonable approach based on the new technologies, the amount of footprint we would take up would be minimal. But I would put that into a long-term national energy policy. It would not be a project by itself. We have to look at the long-term energy requirements of our country and how we figure out how to get off foreign oil. That is the ultimate goal. Because we are dependent so much on foreign oil that we are really strapped in what we can do as a country. And we have to figure out new energy sources, as well as how do we reduce demand as a country, because that's a huge impact. That's why the oil prices have come from 140 down to 55 bucks a barrel is because we have reduced demand by almost five percent. That's what we need to be focused on and that in the long term for our country will be a great benefit.

Listen to the interview here.