Mark Begich said goodbye on the floor of the U.S. Senate on Thursday. His six years in office end with this Congress.
Begich, who lost his seat largely due to his embrace of Democratic policies, recounted how far the country has come since the great recession.
“I remember coming onto this floor as a freshman in ’09,” he said. “The chaos in this economy was unbelievable. The amount of jobs we were losing, 600+k a month – equal to my whole population of my state. Unemployed! Boom Gone.”
He says he and other freshmen wondered what they’d gotten into. Now the stock market is up, unemployment is down and the annual budget deficit has shrunk. Begich says there’s more to do and urged his colleagues to be optimistic.
“People may be angry with us, but they want to know what we’re going to do to solve these incredible problems,” he said. “And it will be incumbent on the next Congress to sit down and work together. It’s going to be tough. Because the politics of today are about the moment in time. It’s not about the long term.”
He told a few anecdotes about his time on Capitol Hill. Once, he said, he and his son Jacob dug out their car after a snow storm and parked it near the white-domed Capitol building.
“Those who know me – I don’t really follow all the rules around this place,” Begich said. “We started walking through the Capitol with our snow shovels over our shoulders. The place was empty. And I realized what an incredible place this is…,” emotion choked off his words a few times during the speech, particularly when he spoke of his wife and son. “…You just see the history…and in a small way we were part of it.”
Begich staffers sat in the back of the chamber, many in tears.
As is the tradition, other senators stood to laud Begich. One was Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat who later said her own farewells. Landrieu says many senators assert their parents gave their lives to public service, but in Begich’s case, it’s quite true. Congressman Nick Begich’s plane disappeared en route to Juneau. As Landrieu noted, that left Mark and five siblings without a father.
“So when Mark walked in here, the first day I met him, I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was expecting someone to have a heavy burden on their shoulders because of that,” she said.
Instead, Landrieu says, Begich was one of the most optimistic people in the Senate, brimming with self confidence and encouraging to his peers.
“And I know that his father is truly honored that he didn’t get bitter. He wasn’t angry. He accepted that as God’s will, which is a hard thing to accept,” Landrieu said. “And he just, just did so much for the community that his father loved, the state that his father loved.”
Before Begich left the floor, senators stood in line to hug him. Their applause lasted nearly a minute. On Jan. 6, former Alaska Attorney General Dan Sullivan will be sworn in as Alaska’s 8th senator since statehood.