Former Alaska U.S. Sen. Mark Begich said Saturday that he'd founded a consulting firm and would work for a health care trade organization and an Alaska airline, Grant Aviation.
Begich, a one-term Democrat who last year lost his re-election bid to Republican Dan Sullivan, said in a press release that he'd been hired by the airline and by the National Association for Home Care and Hospice.
The announcement ends speculation that Begich, a former Anchorage mayor, could enter the race to take back his old job. This year's mayoral election is in April, and left-of-center candidates have been waiting to announce their intentions until Begich, who had acknowledged considering a bid, made up his mind.
In a phone interview late Saturday, Begich said he received an "enormous amount" of encouragement to run for mayor, and thought he could win the race. But he ultimately wanted a job that would allow his son, Jacob, to finish his last two years of middle school in Washington, D.C.
"Political office can come and go but seventh and eighth grade only come once," Begich said. "I might be chaperoning a few more dances than he thought."
Begich and his family will continue splitting their time between Washington, D.C., and Alaska, and he said he would maintain his Alaska residency.
Asked if his plans rule out a run for the U.S. House or the U.S. Senate in 2016 -- when both Rep. Don Young and Sen. Lisa Murkowski will be up for re-election -- Begich responded, "I'm not going to speculate what I will do."
"But I know there's a lot of people that would love to see me run," he added. "Those options are always on the table but at the time they're not what I'm focusing on."
Begich's consulting firm, Northern Compass Group, was registered with Alaska's Department of Commerce on Monday. It lists a mailing address of Washington, D.C., and a physical address in Anchorage.
He said he expects to announce additional clients and employees in the coming weeks. And he said he would be working with some nonprofit groups.
Begich said he would not be doing any lobbying -- he's actually barred by federal law and Senate rules from lobbying for two years -- and instead would be "helping these organizations get to their next level."
In his press release, Begich said he would focus on "business development and public policy." Asked whether the interests of the groups he's working for match the interests of the public and his former constituents, Begich responded that "they do all have public policy elements to them."
"Some of my colleagues go into it, 'Oh, we're going to lobby and be of counsel,'" Begich said. "What I'm interested in is giving strategic advice and business advice."
When he served in the Senate and during his re-election campaign, Begich founded a caucus focused on small planes and non-scheduled air service, known as general aviation.
Begich said he would be doing business development for Grant Aviation, specifically focusing on increasing access to services in rural Alaska. The airline says it has daily flights to more than 45 communities including Bethel, Cold Bay, Dillingham, Dutch Harbor, Emmonak and King Salmon.
Begich was also an advocate for health care programs including President Barack Obama's signature Affordable Care Act legislation, as well as for the expansion of Medicaid in Alaska. And his campaign attracted support from the American Hospital Association.
At the health care trade group, NAHC, Begich will advise and assist with business development, help lead a museum and guide a Web-based home care and hospice television network, according to NAHC's announcement, which said Begich would be vice president for policy and development.
Asked how much he would be earning, Begich responded: "You know what's so great about being in the private sector? That's my answer."
"I'm going to be making a living," he added, declining to say whether he would be making more than his $174,000 salary as a senator.
NAHC is a 501(c)(6) nonprofit, a classification that includes business leagues and chambers of commerce. It represents the interests of home health agencies, hospices and home health aide organizations, and it's headquartered in Washington, D.C.
The organization spent some $1.2 million on lobbying in 2013, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Under federal law and Senate rules, Begich is barred from contacting the Senate or the House of Representatives for two years, though those restrictions do not apply to contact with other government officials. Begich said he expected to have some contact with the federal government in his new job.
NAHC's CEO, Val Halamandaris, earned some $600,000 in compensation in 2013, and its vice president for law earned $400,000, according to a tax filing. Other vice presidents earned between $150,000 and $250,000.
A contact listed on the group's Web posting didn't answer a phone call Saturday.
The work Begich has announced shouldn't hinder his political future should he decide to run for the Senate again, said Marc Hellenthal, a Republican pollster and consultant in Anchorage.
"It may not help you," Hellenthal said in a phone interview, but he added, "I can't see it hurting him."
Begich's decision will likely spur a flurry of activity among prospective mayoral candidates on the left, who so far have stayed out of the race to leave the field clear in case he decided to enter, said Hellenthal, who's working for a conservative mayoral candidate, Dan Coffey.
"No Democrat would have run as long as Begich was out there with the prospect of running," Hellenthal said.
Anchorage political races are officially nonpartisan but both political parties can recruit candidates and support them.
Andrew Halcro, the former president of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce who recently announced his mayoral candidacy, said he "absolutely" expected a Democratic candidate to get into the race before the Feb. 13 filing deadline.
"I certainly think somebody jumps in," he said. "It's a new day for a lot of people who want to run for mayor, because they know Mark is not going to run."