Fritz Pettyjohn: Taking a look back at the original Rep. Nick Begich

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By FRITZ PETTYJOHN

Nick Begich III seeks to represent Alaska in Congress, as his grandfather did from 1970 to 1972. Even though young Nick is a conservative Republican businessman, he is suspect in the eyes of many Republicans because of the politics of his uncles Mark and Tom.

A better place to look for young Nick’s inspiration is to look at the all-too-brief career of the original Nick Begich.

The elder Begich was elected to the State Senate in 1962 at the age of 30. In 1970, he beat Republican Frank Murkowski 55-45 for the right to succeed Republican Rep. Howard Pollock, who had run for governor and lost. At this time, development of the oil field discovered at Prudhoe Bay in 1968 was stalled because of Alaska Native land claims.

As a freshman Congressman in 1971, Begich worked with Alaska Natives and with Sens. Ted Stevens and Mike Gravel on legislation to settle these claims and allow construction of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline. For Alaska this was, and is, the most important law passed since statehood.

Working closely with House Majority Leader Hale Boggs of Louisiana, Begich won passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Thirteen regional Native corporations were established, and given the rights to 40 million acres of Alaska lands. This critical bill passed the House 343-63, and the rush to the Arctic was on. This was the birth of modern Alaska.

Boggs was in line to become Speaker of the House following Carl Albert of Oklahoma. He was so impressed with Begich that he flew to Alaska in October 1972 to help him win reelection. On a flight from Anchorage to Juneau, their Cessna 310 went down in mysterious circumstances and was never found.

House Majority Whip Tip O’Neill took over for Boggs as Majority Leader, and Don Young was elected to replace Begich. In 1977, it was O’Neill, not Boggs, who became House Speaker after Albert.

Who knows how far Begich could have gone if he and Boggs had not been killed? He was destined for leadership in Congress, and was poised to become a great asset to the people of Alaska. If his grandson needs a role model, he will not be looking to his uncles. All he needs to do is walk in the steps of one of the founders of modern Alaska, the original Nick Begich.

The issue of federal lands in Alaska has not been settled to Alaska’s satisfaction to this day. In fact, the federal government still owns 61% of Alaska lands. Why? There’s no satisfactory answer to that question. In his 2016 campaign for President, Sen. Ted Cruz promised to support transferring federal lands to the states. His opponent, Donald Trump, was opposed. His son, Donald Trump Jr., acting on behalf of Safari Club International, convinced him to adopt this position, and in an interview with Field & Stream magazine, he said he didn’t trust the states with the land. The wealthy trophy hunters of Safari Club fear the states, if given title, would give hunting preferences to their residents.

Cruz was able to campaign and win on this issue in northern Nevada, Alaska, Idaho, Wyoming and Utah.

In the 2024 Republican presidential primaries, this question will resurface, as candidates compete to win delegates in the Mountain West.

As Ted Cruz proved in 2016, it’s a winning issue. As a result, if a Republican other than Donald Trump wins the presidency, Alaska and the other states of the Mountain West will almost surely have an ally in the White House as they seek to reduce federal landholdings in their states. Who better to represent Alaska on this issue than the namesake and grandson of the original Nick Begich?

Fritz Pettyjohn was chairman of Reagan for President Alaska and deputy campaign manager of Murkowski for Senate in 1980. He was elected to the state Senate in 1982, and served in the Legislature until 1990.

26 COMMENTS

    • Fritz Pettyjohn is a Never Trumper and cannot be trusted. When has there ever been a more pro-Alaska president than Trump? This article has lessened my support for Nick Begich.

    • Gregg, what on earth are you talking about? The SR 71 has flown numerous missions all over the earth. Are you living in Florida?

    • Greg, I watched that same program about the Cessna 310 and Alien Abduction too. That’s why Tricky Dick wouldn’t release the pictures, right? Makes perfect sense!

      • I was watching a show that had the son on there pleading for them to be released. I think it was taped not too long ago. I don’t know about any aliens involved. Sounds like some shenanigans were in play though.

      • What they don’t tell you is Nixon bragging to his aides that the wreckage and the bodies will never be discovered.

        Now Nixon knew a lot since he was VP under Eisenhower and probably knew where the Roswell aliens are. But he was also smart enough to know that if the bodies weren’t found then they must be presumably still alive and would win their elections posthumously.

        Boggs his wife won his reelection, and a guy by the name of Don Young won Begichs. You should read up on the hidden tapes from the White House. They weren’t all about Watergate. Young was in there shortly after his election talking about the crash. Presumably he knows where the bodies are buried.

        • Greg, in truth, I never saw a program about the subject above. My comment was made in jest. Interestingly my wild speculation about sensational reporting was spot on.
          Oh, BTW, Nick Begich beat Don Young, despite his being dead.

  1. State management of resources is a key component in the Libertarian senate candidate, Sean Thorne. We all can agree nobody takes care of Alaska better than Alaskans.

    • Fritz,
      Young Begich lacks experience. He’s not a proven quantity and he should start with State House. Otherwise, he depends on his family name and the past events to which you speak. He also will be under tremendous influence from his two Lefty uncles, no matter which banner he flies when elected. Additionally, the federal lands issue is not the be all, end all. There are many issues on the table for consideration. I would preference this guy, Michael Tavoliero, who seems to have good business sense and a hell of a lot more life experience than young Begich.

  2. The Democrat platform of 1970 would have been MORE CONSERVATIVE than the Republican platform of today especially since the inclusion of the log cabin Republicans. Don Young has voted with and supported the democratic platform once to often for me.

  3. Nick Begich is a very appealing young man. He is smart, articulate, considerate and exudes confidence. But we need to get to know him better. For starters: History of past campaigns he has supported, how he would have voted for the ‘infrastructure bill’, the ‘lifting of the debt ceiling’, the ‘build back worse bill’, the bill that establishes the vaccine registry and so forth. We also want to know his thoughts about how, as a Congressman, he would put Alaska first. And, how, being emerged in the DC swamp he would avoid becoming compromised. These are questions that must be answered during the upcoming campaign.

  4. We can’t afford to potentially waste a vote on little Nicky.
    At best, he’s a RINO like Sullivan.
    At worst, he’s a Traitor like Don and Lisa.
    No thanks.
    Gotta be a better candidate.

  5. I’m not buying the stab at Trump on keeping the lands under Federal control.

    He had done a lot of deregulating to allow States to utilize their resources. I’m all for Alaska controlling its land, but there are also National Security concerns when you talk about rare earth minerals, oil and gas.

    I think a balance could be struck between State control and the needs of the Nation to use the resources for the benefit of National Defense and staying ahead of the technology curve with the rare earth minerals needed to produce that technology. Alaska would still greatly benefit economically from the development and sales of its resources.

  6. I wonder if the elder Nick Begich was living his life a Christian? He seemed like it. You never know until you peek into their bible seeing the side notes and underlined scriptures. A lot more of his peers during his time period were sensitive and self examining of themselves to are they doing right in the Lords eyes.
    Even in the late Nick Begich generation I think they didn’t read the bible enough. However at least they were humble enough than todays people to admit their own faults and failings. Hahaha. I wonder if the elder Nick Begich will still vote for Democrats? I think so. Just as my neighbor, a retired state director and lifelong Democrat, continues voting for Democrats evenwhile I tried encouraging him see the party is not the same party he knew 40-50 years ago. He just doesn’t trust Republicans and I guess he lived during a time when Republicans were todays Democrats. He shudders at the name like I shudder at the name Democrat. hahaha

      • Would any of us?
        With the Miccichi-Bishop Dividend Debacle, ANC Assembly blood letting, $6.7Tn debt Don Trump amassed, $1.2Tn Infrastructure Act, $29Tn National Debt, Vax Listing Bill, raising the debt ceiling, $1.8 Tn BBB Bill…. many of us are having a hard time seeing a difference. This list is only the last 12 months. I reckon both get behind the doors and share great jokes at our expense.
        Two things these cats got in common:
        1) Spending Taxpayer’s hard earned wages
        2) More regulations

  7. The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act destroyed the native family just as welfare destroyed the American black family. (But liberals feel better and that’s what counts).

  8. While these may be the author’s personal views, the discussion of Safari Club International and its members is highly inconsistent with every experience I have had with the group in Alaska, which works hard to ensure state management of fish and wildlife is honored and protected on all lands, regardless of ownership and to the benefit of all who harvest these resources. Perhaps the author is confusing Safari Club with Donald Trump Jr’s proud life membership in Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, which came out in strong opposition to the transfer of federal public lands to the states in 2014.

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