Sen. Mark Begich is saying goodbye to one of his most faithful employees. Julie Hasquet, Begich's spokesperson, began working for him in the summer of 2003 as his spokesperson and has been with him since.
As this reporter can attest, Hasquet could at times be funny, warm and prickly with the press and wasn't afraid to double-down on behalf of her boss. But unlike the mouthpieces of many government officials, she always talked. And she always tried to make Begich available to the media.
Indeed, Begich's relationship with the media in Alaska's largest city -- particularly conservative talk-show hosts -- in part helped win him the 2008 U.S. Senate election against Ted Stevens (though the ill-fated guilty verdict helped more than anything else). And that outreach has garnered Begich a stronger relationship with conservative Alaskans than other Democrats have achieved.
"Alaskans want to hear from their elected officials and they should. Our strategy -- ever since he (Begich) was the mayor -- has been to be available to the media, especially Alaska reporters, whenever they have questions," she said.
Hasquet's moving on to be the director of government and public affairs at BP Alaska, where she won't have to deal as much with pesky reporters like this one. She said that she'll miss working for Begich, but not miss working in politics.
"Even though it is rewarding to be serving the people of your state, sometimes there are those who just don't want to believe politicians are working on their behalf," she said.
Amy Miller will be taking over for Hasquet. Miller's past includes a three-year stint as reporter for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. Most recently she comes to the Begich office from Thompson & Co, a public relations firm. She's also the former wife of Anchorage Daily News political reporter Sean Cockerham. Cockerham is based out of D.C., where, among other things, he covers Begich for the ADN.
Begich is up for reelection in 2014, and it's going to get brutal. He's vulnerable because of what's perceived as some shady union contracts he negotiated as mayor, because Alaska is a Republican state, because the ghost of Ted Stevens still haunts the land and because Begich's response to the botched investigation has been less than statesman-like.
Nobody yet has jumped in to challenge him but the whisper campaign has begun to heat up. Some of the names whispered include current Gov. Sean Parnell, current Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, and Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan, whose resume stretches from here to D.C., and back.
There will be more names, lots of them. But although Begich might be perceived as vulnerable, nobody should underestimate him. "The boy wonder," as he's known in some circles, knows the state and knows politics as well as anybody, and has worked well across party lines for the state. For her part, Hasquet has worked hard for nine years to help make sure the people of Alaska know that.
She'll be missed by Begich, for sure. And also by this little corner of Alaska's media, which she always responded to, even if sometimes in protest. Because that's what a good spokesperson who works for the public does.
Contact Amanda Coyne at Amanda@alaskadispatch.com