Croatian Embassy in Washington D.C.

Croatian Embassy in Washington D.C.–

The Embassy hosted a reception for Young Professionals in International Affairs (YPIA) on 26 October 2017, with former senator Mark Begich as a guest speaker. YPIA’s Transatlantic Security Program engages young professionals in dialogue on security challenges and opportunities for enhanced cooperation within the transatlantic alliance. The reception explored the range of areas of cooperation between the U.S. and Croatia, the future of U.S.-Croatian relations, and the richness of Croatian culture.
Photos by Wilsar Johnson at Wilsar Shoots




Health-care compromise is possible — and vital

THE SOURCE: Alaska Dispatch News

If there is one thing we all hoped Congress had learned with the latest failed attempt at health care repeal, it is that people want bipartisan solutions. And yet, even with the 24-hour news cycle, it is nearly impossible to find any instances of bipartisanship or progress. While current congressional approval ratings would indicate that the public isn’t surprised, history tells us it doesn’t have to be this way.

Consider the modern day health care system for veterans, which was first established in 1929. Year after year, Democrats and Republicans come together to make improvements to the program. Working together, Congress has shown it is possible to provide a working model of health care in this country. Republicans and Democrats may not always have the exact same vision for moving forward, but because both parties agree that our commitment to veterans should rise above politics, they find a way to compromise.

In 2014, after the devastating discoveries of inadequate care in VA centers across the country, Republicans and Democrats stepped up and put forward various solutions to address the problem. Outrage in Washington was abundant, but at no point did either party suggest we should just scrap the program altogether and eliminate this essential network of care that our veterans rely on.

There is no reason that providing access to quality, affordable health care to hard-working families and children has to be any different. The Affordable Care Act needs to be improved. This is something I have said since the initial bill passed and I do believe there are common-sense solutions that can help improve the current system if there is political will to see them through.

Insure across state lines

I have long advocated for opening the health care exchange across state lines. Alaska’s small population means insurance companies view us as a “higher risk pool” and as a result we pay higher premiums. If, however, Alaska could share an exchange with other similarly sized states – Montana, Idaho, Wyoming – then we could expand our pool, lower the risk and drive down costs.

Provide a catastrophic coverage option – Copper Plan

I have also advocated, and while in the Senate introduced a bill for, creating a lower cost option on the exchange, which I called the Copper Plan. The Copper Plan would mirror what is known as “catastrophic coverage,” but would also include all the core consumer protection benefits that are a part of the Affordable Care Act – lifetime limits, pre-existing conditions, children can stay on your plan until they are 26, etc. The Copper Plan along with the Alaska Native Health Care Clinics, Planned Parenthood and our community health centers would provide a great network of preventive care for Alaskans.

Reduce taxes

I believe the Cadillac tax should be eliminated. This is a tax on high-cost health care plans offered by the general business community, including the oil and gas industry, mining industry and local and state governments. Alaska, due to our state’s unique geography, has one of the highest-cost health care delivery systems in the country. So states like Alaska are disproportionately penalized by the Cadillac tax because of our unique needs. If this tax is not eliminated, local governments will continue to have increased costs, which are ultimately paid by local taxpayers. This is unfair and unacceptable.

Increase capacity

Last, I would expand the tuition reimbursement that I was able to get in the Affordable Care Act. I would allow a full 100 percent scholarship for those who want to work as primary or senior care doctors, nurses and physician assistants. In exchange, they would work for a period of time in either community health centers, VA clinics or Indian Health Service establishments. This is basic supply and demand. By increasing the supply of qualified professionals, we could help stabilize the cost of providing care and therefore the lower the cost of care to patients.

Without these additional reforms, Alaska’s individual insurance market will continue to falter and create a ripple of negative impacts across Alaska communities. We must stabilize the private insurance market, which will in turn help our small business community. Given Alaska’s ongoing economic situation, the greatest thing we can do for families and businesses is to create some certainty.

Change is always hard, but it is doable. When I was in the Senate, I crafted an initiative to create a program that now delivers health care to veterans in Alaska utilizing the Alaska Native health care system in their local (or nearby) community when no veterans care is available at home. People — including many from within my own party — told me it would be impossible, but I knew it was a better way to provide care for our veterans so I refused to take no for an answer. Alaska now serves as a model for the rest of the country when it comes to providing health care to our veterans.

As mayor of Anchorage, I also revamped our health care self-insurance fund for the city’s 3,000 employees. As a result, our costs went from an annual 10 percent to 12 percent increase all the way down to less than 1 percent per year.

I will say it again – the current law needs to be improved. But we can’t simply rip the rug out from under hard-working families for the sake of short-term political agendas. Nearly 25 percent of Alaskans are currently covered by Medicaid and stand to face devastating impacts if they are forced off the program. Thousands of Alaskans would be left without access to the critical care they receive at Planned Parenthood. All Alaskans risk facing devastatingly high premiums and reduced access to care. Moreover, it is impossible to quantify the peace of mind that is brought to individuals and families knowing they are protected by the core consumer protections that were implemented in the Affordable Care Act.

There is reason to have hope, given the inability of Republicans in Congress to pass their risky “repeal and replace” plan. Moreover, Alaskans should be grateful that our own Sen. Lisa Murkowski was willing to stand up to her party leadership and protect the pieces of health care that are working. Now, we need Congress to fix the pieces that are broken. What happens next, however, will depend on Congress’ willingness to put politics aside and find the middle ground as they have done time and time again for improving veterans health care. It isn’t an easy challenge but it is a worthy one.

In Alaska, the health and well-being of not only our families and communities but also our economy depend on common sense, balanced solutions that improve access and affordability without undermining consumer protections and personal rights.

Click here for original article.

Alaska’s budget patch isn’t enough

THE SOURCE: Alaska Dispatch News

While there may have been a momentary sigh of relief as the governor and Legislature closed out the seventh special session since 2015, they still failed to implement any sort of long-term fiscal solutions to get our economy back on track. This lack of leadership means continued economic uncertainty for Alaska families and small businesses and keeps our economy moving in the wrong direction.

Yes, there have been budget cuts, but not enough to right-size the government. Make no mistake about it, our elected officials are facing a series of difficult decisions. It’s tough to cut a budget and even tougher to reach agreement on additional sources of revenue. Even worse, however, the last several years of handwringing have proven that without clearing those two hurdles, making long-term investments is off the table. In other words, we will inevitably end up right back where we started because we failed to prevent it from happening again.

If the governor and Legislature don’t take the lead by investing in Alaska’s future, then why should others? Our leaders should be demonstrating that strategic investments have value here in Alaska. We can’t expect others to see our state as a place of opportunity and growth if we aren’t making investments that reflect those values.

I applaud the Bipartisan Coalition in the State House as they tried to bring forward a long-term budget plan, but the Republican-controlled Senate opted for a short-term life support option rather than long-term planning and protection.

If we see our leaders matching hard-working families’ sacrifices, then I believe Alaskans will be ready and willing to do their part to fill the fiscal gap — if there still is one. However, as long as the Legislature continues to operate in a time warp where they pit one group against another, like oil companies vs. hard-working Alaskans, you can bet that the public will remain skeptical at best. There are common-sense, balanced solutions that will allow Alaska businesses and families to thrive simultaneously, but someone has to be willing to put them on the table and fight for results. I believe the path for progress is there, but it is up to us to pave the way and believe in the future.

It can be tough to remain optimistic in times like these. The negative news and noise coming from Washington, D.C., seems to have bled right into Juneau. From raucous town halls to pending government shutdowns and special sessions, changing the status quo can seem impossible. The Alaska I know never settles for second-best and thrives on tough challenges. We know life is different here and we are willing to put in the work to preserve that way of life.

Alaskans have the character and the ingenuity to solve any problem, but we need a vision. I have seen Alaska through highs and lows and I know without a doubt that our best days are ahead of us. The question is, how long are we going to have to wait to turn the tide?

Click here for original article.

‘You have to win some of these red states’: Why moderate Democrats can’t be ignored

THE SOURCE: The Washington Post

After losing a presidential election it thought it had in the bag, the Democratic Party is still very much in soul-searching mode. While progressive members of the party have been extremely vocal that the party should shift to the left, a quieter, moderate section of the party is urging caution in that move. Former senator Mark Begich (D-Alaska) recently hosted a gathering of moderate Democrats in Denver to find a way to insert themselves into the Democratic-rebirth conversation. The Fix talked to Begich after the gathering. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

THE FIX: So, what was the takeaway from this Denver meeting of moderate Democrats?

BEGICH: It was a very healthy discussion. I first thought, honestly, we’d all come together and be griping about the world, which anybody in politics can do any time. But it didn’t turn out that way. You saw people motivated and interested in figuring out: How do we keep our values under what progressive want? Not to take away from their values, but in red states, we have to look at things a little differently.

What’s your pitch to the liberal wing of the party to let you guys have that conversation?

I’m an oil-and-gas, gun-supporting Democrat. I support gay rights, I support pro-choice, but I’m also focused on the economy and a deficit hawk and a defense spender. So does that fit or not fit with the Democratic Party? The answer is: It should. For the Democrats to be the majority party in any of the categories — from statehouse to governor to House members to Senate and so forth — you have to win some of these red states.

Okay, so how do Democrats win some of these red states?

We have to shift from just dictating what we think are the right answers to engaging with people at all levels within the Democratic Party, including the independents.

I think the 2016 election really highlighted the need to talk about four principles [we came up with in Denver]: security, opportunity, results and compassion. I think those four issues do not conflict at all with anybody in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. And we have to put it in a more concise, direct message that I think we missed during the 2016 elections.

You must be very cognizant that progressives are arguably the loudest wing of the Democratic Party right now.

We like to call ourselves more centrists than independent Democrats. What we represent is an independent thinking within the Democratic Party, but we’re not pulling away from the values of the Democratic Party.

I think what happens in Washington is it’s always either that side or the other side, and they say:”You must be against progressives.” And the answer is: No, we just have a different approach.

What do you mean by different approach?

I’m a hardcore climate change believer, but I’m also a believer in oil and gas development. When I talk about climate change, you may not hear me talk about a lot from the emissions standpoint, but you’ll hear me talk about the economic benefits dealing with climate change could have.

On tax policy, you might see me emphasize small and independent and mid-size businesses. You may have progressives focused on what you do to lower the tax rate for a low-income individual. Neither of those are independent of each other.

After November, liberal icon Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said the party’s failure to reach out to white working-class voters was “an embarrassment.” Where do you diverge from him?

I would say talking to the working class is very important, and I think that’s what we missed in 2016. We didn’t talk about growing the economy, about small business being the backbone of this country.

Minimum wage is important, but what’s more important is a good job so people don’t have to work three different jobs to make ends meet. That’s the real missing link. It’s great to talk about the minimum wage, but at the same time, if we’re not talking about how to create jobs, increasing the minimum wage is irrelevant if you don’t have jobs.

It feels like 2018 could be a test case for your ideas, given ten Democratic senators are running for reelection in Trump states.

The 2018 map is tough for Democrats in today’s world right this second, but you know the way politics works. I have a button that says: “Every week in politics is a lifetime.”

I’ll use Alaska as an example: People would say “Alaska is red.” Well, we won the statehouse under Trump, the first time since 1992. We have a first-time-ever Alaska Native as the speaker of the Alaska House. The mayor of Anchorage is a Democrat. Our governor is an independent. We have slowly in the last two years built what people said can’t happen. So politics today can radically change.

Speaking of changes, do you have any interest in running for public office again?

We’ll see what the future holds. I like what I’m doing right now.

Correction: The Fix originally mis-heard Begich’s description of the heritage of Bryce Edgmon, speaker of the Alaska House. He is an Alaska Native.

Click here for original article.

Centrist Democrats struggle to draft a survival strategy

SOURCE: Star-Telegram

WASHINGTON – It was a secret meeting about an existential crisis.

Gathered behind closed doors in a Denver hotel, 30 conservative Democrats plotted a potential path forward for their party – an effort to devise a strategy that might help them avoid total annihilation in red states across America.

These political moderates had been called together by former Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, and they showed up out of fear that their party is growing more liberal by the day, and less interested in their centrist positions.

Over a packed three-day schedule with a battery of presentations, the U.S. senators, former federal prosecutors, mayors and top Cabinet officials from the Obama administration in attendance talked about faith and religious voters, heard from a radio host about a medium typically reserved for conservatives and considered research suggesting that liberal priorities – like student loan debt – are just not a big deal.

It was hardly a typical Democratic event. But that, Begich said, was the point.

“You can’t get the majorities back without independent and centrist Democrats. You just can’t,” Begich told McClatchy. “It’s important that we come together and figure that out without conflicting with other groups.”

The former senator said the participants “saw an opportunity to come lay down their ideas and not worry about . . . is one group going to like it? Or is one group not going to like it?”

“That’s a strong statement to the Democratic Party because that means there are wings of the party that want to do the right thing, knowing we have some challenges,” the Alaska politician said.

Begich and other Democrats at the forum said they didn’t want to provoke the party’s progressive wing, which has argued vehemently since last year’s election that Democrats need to adopt the type of muscular liberal agenda advocated by former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, an independent Vermont senator. In interview after interview, the party centrists who attended said they could find enough common ground with the party’s left wing to avoid conflict.

The forum’s guest list was nonetheless a who’s-who of current officeholders and former candidates from red states, including Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., Stacey Abrams, the minority leader for the Georgia General Assembly, and Greg Fischer, the mayor of Louisville.

Begich would not name all the participants, saying some of them preferred to keep their involvement private. But Conner Eldridge, a former U.S. attorney who ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in Arkansas, said in an interview that he’d brought six former U.S. attorneys. (He declined to name them.)

Ken Salazar, who served as President Barack Obama’s secretary of the interior, was also there, his office confirmed. Salazar is considering a run for governor of Colorado next year.

Presentations included a discussion about faith, and what millennials and Generation Z – America’s youngest generation – are experiencing in the economy and politically.

Joel Heitkamp, the senator’s brother and a talk radio host in North Dakota, addressed the group to discuss how the participants could engage with radio, usually the sole province of conservatives.

The presentations helped the group arrive at four core values that would unite Democrats of all kinds, according to Begich: security, opportunity, compassion and results.

“If you’re an independent Democrat in Alaska, you care about those four issues,” Begich said.

“If you’re a liberal in California, do you care about those four issues? The answer is yes.”

But the group’s red-state makeup guaranteed a different tone and tenor to the discussion than many Democrats are having elsewhere.

Those who attended said it was necessary because it was easy for Democrats to ignore their compatriots in Republican-leaning states, if for no other reason than that there were simply more blue-state Democrats.

And even when red-state Democrats are heard, they might be ignored.

“They tend to dominate the conversation,” said Abrams, the legislative leader in Georgia, whom many Democrats consider one of the party’s foremost rising stars. “By virtue of being in a red state, we are often fighting for attention, but we also have a credibility challenge because we don’t win as often.”

Still, even if Begich and others say they don’t want a fight with progressives, there are substantive differences in how the two sides see the world.

Abrams, for example, said Georgia had a law forbidding cities from mandating a higher minimum wage for private-sector workers – making progressive calls for the $15 minimum all but moot in her state.

And Begich said research he’d seen showed that younger voters didn’t care nearly as much about student debt as some liberals believed. It’s led the party to advocate solutions for problems that people simply don’t care as much about, he said.

“It was shocking to me, honestly shocking,” Begich said. “Because I’m thinking OK, the liberal wing talks about these things, which on the surface are fantastic. But we as Democrats are talking about things where we think people should be, and where the population is is actually a little different.”

He added, “I wouldn’t call it a conflict but that’s where the rub occurs.”

Begich and the rest of the group plan to try to meet again, as Democrats move closer to the 2018 midterm elections, in which the party hopes to gain seats in the House of Representatives while keeping down its losses in the Senate, where many red-state Democrats face re-election.

Participants said they planned to keep spreading the message.

“We all share some commonalities with the states we come from, and where we come from on the political spectrum,” said Eldridge, the former U.S. attorney from Arkansas. “There’s a lot of work to be done to make sure we continue to have strong advocacy for these values that we find in the heartland, in red and rural states.

“That’s something I’m dedicated to working to further. I think everyone in this group is dedicated to that.”

Click here for original article.

The future of the Arctic

SOURCE: The Hill

During my time serving in the United States Senate, I witnessed my fair share of partisan rhetoric—especially when it came to Alaska’s energy potential. While politicians like to use the future of the Arctic as a political hot potato, the truth is that the Arctic can and should be a key component of America’s comprehensive energy plan.

Developing our Arctic resources means we can continue to ensure the Arctic is well managed by our neighbors while replacing the oil we are buying from foreign and often hostile countries. It also means creating jobs here at home and controlling energy costs for American families. Production in the U.S. means more royalties and revenue coming to federal, state and local governments rather than to countries whose policies we may or may not support. The bottom line is that there is much to gain from responsible development here at home.

As designated by law, every five years, the Department of the Interior assesses which parcels of federal land and waters are eligible for oil and gas lease sales. What has become clear to me, and to many of us across Alaska, is that if Alaska’s offshore is not included in the next lease sale, due to be announced any day now, one of America’s last great energy opportunities may never be developed.

The Obama Administration has already demonstrated they understand the value of harnessing America’s energy potential. After 25 years of stalled progress under several administrations, the Obama Administration permitted oil and gas exploration in waters off Alaska’s North Slope and allowed work to get underway in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A), which is expected to produce 18 million barrels of oil per year. Just last week, Amy Pope, the Vice Chair of the White House Arctic Executive Steering Committee and Deputy Homeland Security Advisor reiterated that the Arctic will “likely continue to provide valuable supplies to meet U.S. energy needs into the future.” As we approach the final months of this Administration, I hope we will see continued support for maintaining access to America’s diverse energy sources.

Promising discoveries such as the recent Smith Bay find near NPR-A may harness as much as 10 billion barrels of oil. These discoveries, coupled with the great potential in Alaska’s federal waters, can keep the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) supplying west coast states with critically needed fuel. Of course, there will be no discoveries to be had if federal access is not granted; making inclusion of Arctic waters a key aspect of America’s future energy supply.

In many ways, the energy challenges that Alaskans face are no different from those across the country. The Lower 48 has benefited from the shale revolution that has ushered in record-breaking levels of production and dramatically lower energy and living costs. But this production is projected to decline as soon as the 2030s, and unless we develop other sources of energy, we will continue our dependence on oil from foreign and potentially unfriendly countries. The Arctic alone holds at least 15 years of U.S. net oil imports, and these domestic supplies can allow a comfortable transition to an inevitable renewable energy future.

Alaskans have always had a stake in our natural resource development and a keen understanding of the critical role it plays in our state’s overall economy. But we also understand how important Alaska is to the energy and national security of our country. And we understand we have a responsibility to safely and responsibly develop our resources, which we have proven is possible in Alaska time and time again. Having a ready supply of oil and gas protects America’s role as a leader across the world and protects jobs here at home.

As Americans, we have never been afraid to take on tough challenges and create great opportunities. That is why I believe we must focus on harnessing Alaska’s potential for innovative energy development and create a long-term, sustainable energy plan that works for our country. I hope the Administration won’t miss this critical opportunity.

Former Sen. Mark Begich represented Alaska in the Senate from 2009-2015. He is now the President and CEO of Northern Compass Group located in Anchorage, Alaska. He also serves as a Strategic Advisor to Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck.

Click here for original article.

Mark Begich named Vice-Chairman of DOT Travel and Tourism Infrastructure Advisory Committee

U.S. Transportation Secretary Foxx Announces Membership of Travel and Tourism Infrastructure Advisory Committee

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Transportation

Washington – U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx today announced the members of the new National Advisory Committee on Travel and Tourism Infrastructure (NACTTI). The committee will consist of 25 public and private sector stakeholders involved in the transportation, travel, and tourism industries. The group will advise the Department on current and emerging priorities, issues, projects, and funding needs related to the use of the intermodal transportation network of the U.S. to facilitate travel and tourism.

“By 2045, we will have both a larger population and significantly older infrastructure, and we need to start planning for that reality now,” said Secretary Foxx. “Bringing together this group of experts and leaders in transportation, travel, and tourism will help us build a system that ensures that every family vacation or work trip is as seamless and successful as possible.”

NACTTI was established pursuant to the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which was signed into law by President Obama in December 2015. In June 2016, it was announced that the Department would seek nominations for individuals who could fulfill the roles of the committee to provide expert information, advice, and recommendations to the Secretary of Transportation on intermodalism and travel and tourism in the U.S.

The members are:

Chair: Mr. Rossi Ralenkotter, President & CEO, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority
Vice Chair: The Honorable Mark Begich, President & CEO, Northern Compass Group, LLC
Ms. Rosemarie Andolino, President & CEO, MAG USA
Mr. Todd Davidson, Chief Executive Officer, Travel Oregon
Mr. Brad Dean, President & CEO, Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce
Mr. James Dubea, Deputy Executive Director, Canaveral Port Authority
The Honorable Buddy Dyer, Mayor, City of Orlando
Ms. Camille Ferguson, Executive Director, American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association
Mr. Sean Fitzgerald, Vice President, Enterprise Holdings, Inc.
Mr. Ford Fuchigami, Director, Hawaii Department of Transportation
Ms. Gladys Gillis, Chief Executive Officer, Transportation Demand Management, Inc.
Mr. Bryan Grimaldi, Chief Operating Officer & General Counsel, NYC & Company, Inc.
The Honorable Mitchell Landrieu, Mayor, City of New Orleans
Ms. Valarie Long, International Executive Vice President, Service Employees International Union
Mr. Joseph Lopano, Chief Executive Officer, Tampa International Aiport
Mr. Jim Mathews, President & CEO, National Association of Railroad Passengers
Mr. Sean Menke, Exectutive Vice President, Sabre
Mr. Peter Pantuso, President & CEO, American Bus Association
Ms. Sharon Pinkerton, Senior Vice President, Airlines for America
Mr. John Potter, President and CEO, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority
Ms. Cathy Ritter, Director, Colorado Tourism Office
Mr. Jim Sayer, Executive Director, Adventure Cycling Association
Ms. Anne Taber Klenke, Tourism Director, Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana Convention & Visitors Bureau
Ms. Diana Threadgill, President & Executive Director, Mississippi River Cooridor – Tennessee
Mr. Charles Zelle, Commissioner, Minnesota Department of Transportation

Committee members will serve two-year terms. The Department selected individuals with in-depth knowledge of their respective industries or government sectors. Members are nominated through a full and open process published in the Federal Register.

Click here for original press release.

Begich hosts DC Roundtable

Begich hosts DC Roundtable

Former U.S. Senator Mark Begich hosted a DC roundtable panel along with polling experts on the election. They spoke about polling methods and the current US political environment today.

There is great responsibility being in the minority

SOURCE: The Hill

During my time in the Senate, it didn’t take me long to realize that there are two types of people in Washington. There are the “talkers,” who want to deliver the most attention-grabbing quotes and the “doers,” who want to deliver results.

Talkers are focused on Google alerts, retweets, and of course, approval ratings. A talker, for example, may see more value in a 3-5 minute cable TV interview than he or she does in a 3-5 minute conversation with a colleague.

Now don’t get me wrong. Doers see the value in discussing their work, but they also tend to believe that if you do high quality work, that work will speak for itself.  They don’t compromise progress for the sake of self-promotion.

Every member of Congress can tell you what work they are most proud of or how they made a difference for their constituents. And in turn, their constituents can judge their claims by the progress they see in their own communities.

Unfortunately, judging effective leadership in Congress isn’t quite as straightforward. Most Americans are thousands of miles from Washington, D.C. and are all too often left trying to sort out our leaders’ efforts and intentions through the back and forth in the media.

For example, just the other day I read a news story in which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell claimed that he and his party had run an “incredibly productive session” this last year and half. He goes on to try and convince the public that a Republican-controlled Senate is more productive than a Democrat-controlled Senate. His claims, however, lack some critical context.

Republicans currently hold 54 seats in the Senate while Democrats hold 44 seats with two Independents caucusing alongside the Democrats. That means that neither party has the filibuster-proof 60-vote threshold currently required to move any legislation forward. Therefore, there is no scenario in which McConnell can claim legislative progress is solely the result of Republican efforts.

For example, McConnell cited passage of the Keystone XL Pipeline Act as an example of progress. What he didn’t mention, however, is that the Keystone bill passed the Senate by a margin of 62-36, meaning it couldn’t have passed without the support of eight Democrats who were willing to work across the aisle.

Let’s consider some of the other legislation that has passed this session.

The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, aimed at combating the growing epidemic of opioid use across America, passed with overwhelming bipartisan support: 94-1. While several senators missed the vote, the only “no” vote came from a Republican.

The Senate also passed a $56 billion transportation-housing appropriations bill, but again Republicans didn’t do it alone.  Strong support from Democrats allowed the bill to pass 89-8.

It doesn’t take much to scratch beneath the surface of McConnell’s disingenuous claims. The bottom line is that with the current makeup of the Senate, you simply cannot pass legislation without support from the Democrats—even though they are in the minority.

So what is different since McConnell became the Republican Majority Leader? The Senate has a minority—the Democrats—actually willing to work across the aisle.

Democrats understand they can’t get everything they want, but by putting aside partisan differences and working across the aisle they can still get things done.

Democrats are doing what McConnell simply refused to do when he was in the minority: work with the other side. Rather than try to find common ground and put forward solutions, McConnell used his role as leader of the minority to proudly declare that his number one goal would be to guarantee that President Obama became a one-term president.

While he wasn’t successful in his goal, the intention behind his message isn’t lost.

The Senate is intended to be the deliberative body of Congress. Its members are supposed to stand up on behalf of their constituents and debate the merits of policy and explain how it will impact their communities directly. And at the end of the day, they compromise. There may be an impasse at times, but that is different than intentional obstruction.

If Democrats take control of the Senate in 2017, they will not have the necessary 60 votes to move legislation without Republicans. We will get a chance to see just how cooperative Republicans want to be when they are in minority.  Meanwhile, Democrats could have the opportunity to remind the public what real leadership looks like and how we move our country forward.

Everyone wants to be in the majority, but the truth is there is great responsibility in being in the minority – no matter what party you are in. You can choose to be the problem, or you can choose to be a part of the solution.

Former Sen. Mark Begich represented Alaska in the Senate from 2009-2015. He is now the President and CEO of Northern Compass Group located in Anchorage, Alaska. He also serves as a Strategic Advisor to Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck.

Click here for original article. 

Former Senator Mark Begich, Singer Tony Butala Presented With NFCA Awards at 23rd Annual Assembly of Delegates Meeting at Croatian Embassy

Former Senator Mark Begich, Singer Tony Butala Presented With NFCA Awards at 23rd Annual Assembly of Delegates Meeting at Croatian Embassy

SOURCE: Total Croatia News

An important night for the Croatian diaspora in North America on June 11, 2016. TCN’s Steve Rukavina reports. 

NFCA Members and Sarajevo Guests with Former Senator Mark Begich Outside Croatian Embassy in Washington, DC

Washington, D.C. — Former Senator Mark Begich was awarded the NFCA Leadership award at the Republic of Croatia’s Embassy on Saturday, June 11th. Twenty-five National Federation of Croatian American (NFCA) Cultural Foundation Board members and delegates attended the private ceremony. NFCA President Mijo Radocaj cited Mark’s advocacy for Croatian causes during his six years on Capitol Hill as an extraordinary example of his serious commitment to the Croatian community.

The former U.S. Senator’s speech was full of specific ideas about how both his home state of Alaska and the Republic of Croatia have similar challenges and opportunities when it comes to eco-tourism and other business ventures associated with their long coastlines. Senator Begich shared how Alaska created a one billion dollar fishery business and how Alaskan Salmon became a popular brand and big seller for Alaska! Our famous Croatian American was proud to talk about his willingness to visit Zagreb again this fall and to continue his advocacy with on-going projects like with the Double Taxation Treaty agreement. He outlined his highlights about past trips to Croatia and why he recommends to everyone to go and visit the beautiful country of Croatia. It was a pleasure to hear about the many projects that the former Senator is collaborating on these days and how devoted he is to Croatia and Croatian projects. His family is about to move back to Alaska, from Washington, D.C. but he will continue his work in the nation’s capital with his consulting firm.

It is important to note that Mark’s dad, Nick Begich was the first Croatian American to serve in the U.S. Congress and Mark, was the first Croatian American U.S. Senator. He was the Mayor of Anchorage from 2003 through 2009 until he served his six year U.S. Senate term after his victory in 2008. In 2014, the Croatian American Democrat in a heavily Republican state lost his Senate re-election campaign by only 7,991 votes.

The NFCA was thrilled to host the following speakers including, Antoine Ripoll, European Parliament’s Office Director for the U.S. Congress; Ian Campbell, State Department’s Deputy Director for Southeast Europe; Dejan Vanjek, a political counselor to Bosnia and Herzegovina President Dragan Covic and who addressed the electoral challenges facing the Bosnian Croat community. The attendees at this public session appreciated the very thorough presentation by Zoran Konstantinovic, Croatia Embassy’s Senior Economic Attache, outlining all the challenges and barriers facing the Republic of Croatia with securing a Double Taxation treaty with the U.S Treasury Department. There was a serious discussion about how to deal with political discrimination that Bosnian Croats face within the electoral process in the Federation and within the national constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The topic of the lack of a Double Taxation Treaty with the United States was another serious topic and without this DTT agreement there are costly tax problems facing Croatian Americans who plan to re-locate and retire in Croatia and of course, with American companies and investors looking at Croatia as an opportunity.

The last speaker was soon-to-be departing Croatian Ambassador Josko Paro who extended a wonderful summation of his four years in the nation’s capital. He detailed some background about the achievement of European Union ascension and the overall significance of Croatia being part of this Western political and economic alliance. He proudly shared that we have been in a period of “normalcy with Croatian-US relations” and there are no major problems at all between our two countries right now and that in itself is quite an accomplishment. The Croatian Ambassador addressed a few of the priority energy-related projects that his Embassy staff have diligently worked on and he also, addressed the sensitivity and significance of the Double Taxation Treaty.

Tony Butala, founder of the singing group, The Lettermen, was awarded a NFCA Lifetime Achievement Award, joining the ranks of past winners like long-time Croatian Fraternal Union President, Bernard Luketich and world class winemaker, Miljenko Grgich. Tony has attended twelve past NFCA conventions and has spearheaded over 15 Croatian wine tastings as fundraisers for the Croatian American community. His support for Croatian causes has been extraordinary for over 25 years and he has been the entertainment headliner for two of the most successful fundraisers ever held within the Croatian American community. Tony, originally from Sharon PA, accepted the NFCA award and said that he considers this award as important as any of his nine gold album awards which he earned over the years with his group, The Lettermen.

The weekend activities included a special tour of The White House for twenty-two NFCA special guests and delegates. We were very pleased to have two special guests from Sarajevo, Tugomir Culjak and Dejan Vanjek from the office of President Dragan Covic. The Friday night Croatian wine tasting reception with tamburitzan entertainment by Sinoc, a Cleveland group was truly one upbeat celebratory event. Tony Butala did a wonderful rendition of “Marijana” and also, sang a few of The Lettermen hits like “The Way You Look Tonight” and “Going Out of My Head-Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You.” The closing dinner on Saturday night had tambura star, Tom Vesolich with Sinoc’s Ron Zivic entertaining the guests with many classic Croatian songs, as Croatian American activists socialized at the Croatian Embassy! The NFCA Cultural Foundation organization was very appreciative of the hospitality extended by Ambassador Josko Paro and his staff. For further information, about the NFCA Cultural Foundation and their advocacy work for the Croatian American community, please visit their web page at:

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