Sen. Mark Begich met with students Oct. 9 to answer their questions about the state of health care, equal rights, climate change and the cost of college education. Brought up by the Alaska Young Democrats, the patient crowd waited for nearly an hour. Begich, who explained that his flight from Seattle had been half an hour late, started his talk at 5:30 p.m. instead of the scheduled 4:30.
Begich, who made it to the even nearly an hour late, started telling the crowd about his transition from Alaska to Washington, D.C.
“It’s a wild place – managed chaos,” Begich said.
Alaska Young Democrats’ president Keli Booher said they invite Begich to speak not because he was a democrat, but because of he has been a champion of youth involvement. She said that as mayor of Anchorage he started an internship program within the office and fought to make sure that people as young as 16 could serve on public commissions.
After his introduction, Begich mentioned his legislative internship program – with interns in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Washington, D.C. and his work to bring other lawmakers in to D.C. to Alaska for them to get the “real” Alaskan experience. But then turned the discussion to a Q and A.
Much of it focused on the health care debate. One student asked what will be done to expand mental health care under the current proposals.
Begich explained the current status on the five bills being looked at by Congress. He explained that many of them have increased or expanded services on mental health care and veterans care. He said it included providing more resources to soldiers in the field.
“There’s worry that some won’t seek help, but the new leadership recognizes the need,” Begich said.
He also answered a question on the current state of the public option for health care.
“We are just now seeing the debate,” he said. “What you’re seeing today will change tomorrow. People who want to get coverage will get coverage.”
He said that there were 60 democrats who are solid on that.
“It’s [the debate] a process of pain and agony – but we’re democrats.”
Begich also a fielded a question about his efforts to advance equal rights among gay and lesbians.
He brought up the Hate Crimes bill that was passed by the house last week and will most likely be passed by the Senate soon. The bill is attached defense department bill (H.R. 2647) that will authorize appropriations for the 2010 fiscal year.
Begich said that the issue will be hotly debated, but that “we’re almost there” in passing it.
“If they vote no, then they must not want to defend our country,” he said.
He also brought up the repealing of the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
“Our allies don’t have a crazy policy like that, they have no complaints,” he said.
Begich also commended Gov. Sean Parnell’s proposed “Governor’s performance scholarship” that will award scholarships to Alaska high school graduates will a certain GPA. But he also questioned it.
“We’re going to have to figure out how to pay for it over the long hall,” he said.
He also said that under the current health care legislation more people who persue careers in health care could have their student loans forgiven.
He also said that he would push heavily to ensure better funding for early childhood education, especially in rural areas.