Between Begich and Sullivan, a back-and-forth about stretching the truth

Lisa Demer

The latest TV ad by the Dan Sullivan Senate campaign touts his record as Alaska's attorney general on gun rights and goes after Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Begich's support of judicial nominees who have been challenged on the issue.

Begich's campaign retorts that the senator is strong on gun rights and that Sullivan exaggerates his own role in a U.S. Supreme Court Second Amendment case.

The gun fight is the latest back-and-forth between the campaigns over who is stretching the truth.

In the new ad, Sullivan says, "As your attorney general, I led Alaska's efforts in the Supreme Court to protect our Second Amendment rights."

Sullivan was referring to a 2009 challenge organized by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and joined by 37 other states, including Alaska, to support the right of a person in the city of Chicago to own a handgun. At Gov. Sean Parnell's direction, Sullivan signed onto the multi-state friend-of-the-court brief authored by Abbott, according to press releases from the time.

"We won, and for the first time, the court declared that the right to bear arms was an individual right," Sullivan says in the ad.

The individual right to own guns was established the year before in a case from Washington, D.C., but because the capital is a federal enclave, questions remained on whether city governments or state legislatures could ban guns. In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that the right extended outside the capital.

Begich also signed onto a legal brief in the same case supported by 251 House members and 58 senators backing gun rights, his aides note.

The ad also says that Begich supports "Obama's anti-gun judges and votes with Obama 97 percent of the time. That's not independent."

Begich's campaign says the senator is solidly in the gun rights corner.

"Dan Sullivan must not realize he's once again highlighting Mark Begich's accomplishments, in this case Begich's 'A' rating from the NRA," campaign spokesman Max Croes said in an email.

The 97 percent figure refers to a Congressional Quarterly ranking on votes for which President Obama has taken a position. In 2013, there were 108 such votes in the Senate. Sen. Lisa Murkowski voted on the same side as the president 72 percent of the time. In the House, Rep. Don Young agreed with the president's stance just 22 percent of the time, according to Congressional Quarterly. Begich and Murkowski have been on the same side for 84 percent of all votes, his campaign said.

In the Senate, there are far more votes on which the president hasn't taken a position. The 108 votes are out of 291 Senate votes, Croes said. And most of the 108 votes are on presidential nominations, including for judgeships. Senators usually vote with their parties on nominations, and Begich voted to confirm judges, including Supreme Court nominees, opposed by the National Rifle Association.

The Sullivan and Begich campaigns regularly flag the other side's ads as stretching the truth, if not being flat-out lies.

The new Sullivan ad takes on a pro-Begich super PAC backed by Democrats in Washington who accused Sullivan of trying to take away a person's ability to hunt on public lands.

The ad by the Put Alaska First super PAC focused on state House Bill 77, a land use measure that Sullivan pushed as natural resources commissioner. The ad quoted a moose hunter saying that if Sullivan had his way, Alaskans' ability to hunt could change.

The bill, which died in the state Senate, didn't explicitly restrict hunting, but it would have given the commissioner power to approve projects on state land that could prevent other uses, including hunting.

Sullivan's campaign disputes that's what the proposal would do and earlier quoted hunters who agree with Sullivan.

Sullivan aides also deride a Begich ad in which he zooms in on a snowmachine, then takes credit for a road needed for a ConocoPhillips project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

"It took five years, but I got the road approved," Begich says in the ad.

Sullivan's campaign spokesman, Mike Anderson, said a number of people, including others in the congressional delegation, pushed for that road project and that Begich is exaggerating his role.

Young, in a new video posted on YouTube, also criticized Begich for giving himself too much credit, including for the road in the NPR-A.

Begich aides say he did play a key role. Among other things, after Parnell in frustration decided to withdraw from negotiations on the reserve, Begich wrote to him to stay involved and work with the congressional delegation.

Reach Lisa Demer at or 257-4390.

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