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The first time I ever spoke with Mark Begich, I asked him to define himself in a few words so that Blue America participants could get a feel for how he sees himself.

"I’ve been married to Deborah for 18 years," he began. "I have a young son, Jacob, who’s five and a half. Deborah owns and runs four retail stores in Anchorage and I’ve been an entrepreneur / businessperson for over 25 years– in real estate and retail. I served 10 years in the City Assembly (the Anchorage City Council) and now I’m in my second term as mayor." And now he’s taking on one of the most entrenched politicians in America.

Mark’s never had an easy election. He’s always been up against a hard to beat opponent. He’s the first person to ever beat a mayoral incumbent in the history of Anchorage (2003). It’s important to know that Anchorage has 43% of the population of the state and when you add in the boroughs attached to Anchorage, you get close to 60%.

Ted Stevens may have been around longer than anyone can remember, but there can’t be many people who aren’t aware of Mark and what he’s been doing. The Anchorage media market has brought him into the homes of everyone in the state for years.

Most Alaska voters (over 60%) have not registered as Democrats or Republicans. Alaskans have a real independent streak. Bush took the state in 2000 with 59% and four years later with 61%. The first time Ted Stevens ran for the Senate, back in the early 1960s, he was defeated (58-42%) by Ernest Gruening, one of only two senators to oppose the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution which LBJ used to trick us into a war of aggression against Vietnam.

When Democratic Senator Bob Bartlett died in 1968, Gov. Walter Hickel appointed Stevens. After his initial victory, he has never received less than 66% of the vote, and more often he’s gotten over 70%. This year, no one expects that to happen. Stevens, although still liked in many circles, is recognized as being… past his prime, if not senile. He’s also enmeshed in the worst corruption scandal to hit Alaska in history. Recent polls show a neck and neck race and several have shown Mark ahead.

Mark isn’t campaigning on Stevens’ corruption investigations but

the clear contrast on ethics issues between the two men is undeniable. Mark has been an effective advocate for transparency in government.

And, after what they’ve gone through in the last year, Alaskans are sick and tired of backroom deals with special interests and nothing being done out in the open.

If Stevens comes across as feeble, corrupt and technology-challeneged, and a complete shill for Big Oil, Mark is an incredibly dynamic candidate who is presenting a comprehensive Alaskan energy plan that includes funding conservation, research, and renewable energy development through revenues from traditional resources here.

Alaska is ground zero for global warming and Mark has had tremendous success as mayor instituting conservation strategies and renewable energy sources.

He wants to bring the results-oriented mindset to the Senate. Mark has been a great spokesperson for preserving American liberties and showing how Bush’s (and Stevens’) incursions into the 4th Amendment are a threat to the 2nd Amendment as well.

Of the non-presidential candidates, only Jay Rockefeller took bigger bribes "donations" from the Telecom companies than Stevens this year, who scooped up $41,400 ($263,950 in his Senate career). While Mark opposed the FISA bill, Stevens was one of its biggest proponents.

But it is more basic, down to earth, mundane matters that will probably decide this election. Ted Stevens is a product of a corrupt system and an eager servant of corporate special interests. Mark’s focus is on issues that touch working families’ and small businesspeople’s real lives most directly:

Education, health care, the right of working people to organize and bargain collectively and government’s legitimate role in making people’s lives better.

A good example has been the contrast between Ted Stevens and Mark Begich on veterans. Stevens has voted against veterans every single time he’s had an opportunity, 15 times since 2003. A few weeks ago, the pressure from Mark was so intense that Stevens was forced to reverse himself and abandon Bush and the GOP– for the first time ever on veterans’ well being– and vote with the Democrats on the updated GI Bill. It’s as if that were Mark Begich’s first vote in the U.S. Senate.

Mark’s going to be taking questions in the comments section for the next couple hours. We added him to the Blue America ActBlue page and I hope you’ll join me in donating to his campaign. He’s going to be a strong and independent voice in the U.S. Senate. More information at his website, at Progressive Alaska, and at this interview from our friends at BlogTalk Radio.