Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell (R) was 4,400 miles from Newtown, Conn. on the day of the shootings — but the news hit home immediately.
Sandy Hook Elementary was his grade school.
“It turned out that he blew out a plate-glass window, walked into a principal's office I'd been called to many times, and walked down a hallway where I was in classroom.”
Treadwell, who is weighing a Senate campaign in 2014, recounted he and his mother watched the news unfold on the December morning that a 20-year-old had murdered 26 at Sandy Hook.
The park where the post-shooting press conference was held was named after his late father, Timothy Treadwell, who once held the mayor-like job of ‘first selectman’ in Newtown.
“I just remember in the second grade we were cutting out pictures of Santa Claus and we had all these Santa Clauses down the hallway,” Treadwell said, blinking back tears. “And I just imagine one of those kids, the anticipation of the holiday coming up.”
He paused again, his voice cracking. Treadwell's chief of staff got up to grab him some tissue.
“The scary thing for me as these things unfolded is this kid [Newtown shooter Adam Lanza] definitely would have been on my school bus route and probably would have been one of those kids who stood around at the bus stop waiting for the bus in my neighborhood,” he said.
“His house was built in a field where I used to fire rockets and fly model airplanes and kites.”
The Sandy Hook shooting spurred the current effort by President Obama and Congress to pass legislation to combat gun violence, which has included efforts by some lawmakers to ban military-style assault rifles.
But despite his connection to Newtown, Treadwell opposes new firearm regulations and instead wants to improve the mental health system.
That’s similar to the position held by Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), who Treadwell is seriously considering running against next year.
“I believe we need to enforce the laws we have,” Treadwell said.
“My feeling about guns in society is almost like every other thing — the greatest freedom comes from self-discipline, and while we can help people have self-discipline rules aren’t going to change things as much as education and conscientiousness.”
The Sandy Hook shootings weren’t the first time the potential Senate candidate has been personally touched by a national tragedy.
In 1980, Treadwell was in Washington for a few days and planned to meet at the Washington Hilton with an old friend, White House Press Secretary James Brady, to discuss job prospects.
An hour before they were to meet, Brady was shot and partly paralyzed in the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan.
“Sometimes I feel like Forrest Gump,” Treadwell said ruefully. “I’ve had a chance to pop up in some fun places in history.”
With the plague of gun violence once again in the public spotlight, Treadwell is focused on improving the mental health system.
Alaska has one of the highest suicide rates in the country, something Treadwell’s worked with Begich and the rest of the state’s delegation to draw attention to.
“We know that some people who commit suicide usually take others with them, that's what this kid did in Connecticut. He probably knew that day he wasn't going to see the sunset, and we have to do much, much more,” he said.
“Too many young people are dying, whether or not taking people with them. But they take a piece of all of us with them when they do it.”
Treadwell formed an exploratory committee for Begich’s Senate seat in November, but hasn’t yet moved forward with a bid.
He says he won’t make a decision until Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell (R) decides whether or not he’ll run.
Treadwell said he won’t run against his friend and that they’d been talking periodically about the race, but declined to discuss what Parnell was telling him.
The lieutenant governor said he’d turned down a number of job offers in Washington, D.C. over the years but was considering a Senate bid because of the need to have a “united Alaska delegation.”
He declined to criticize Begich at length.
But Treadwell said the senator wasn’t working with the state’s politicians as much as he used to, and that the state needed someone who cared about “the liberty agenda, the fiscal agenda and the Alaska agenda.”
Treadwell said he’d voted for Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) over former GOP Senate candidate Joe Miller both in the state’s 2010 Republican primary.
When Murkowski ran a write-in campaign as an independent, after she’d lost the primary, Treadwell supported her again. Treadwell said he felt Murkowski was a more serious candidate.
Miller is contemplating another run for the Senate, which could lead to a primary showdown against Treadwell if he runs.
Treadwell said the GOP needs to embrace a big-tent philosophy that included libertarian voters. He argued that Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) won his race in 2012 because libertarian voters didn’t back Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.).
He described himself as a strong advocate of both economic liberty and personal privacy, and said he supports a major decrease in federal government spending and regulations.
He mentioned former Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as the politicians he respected the most. Treadwell said he admired Paul “for his courage.”
He also praised Murkowski on energy issues, saying her emphasis on developing renewable energy sources while promoting the development of Alaska’s natural resources was a good balance.
He argued that whether or not global warming was man-made both a carbon tax and cap and trade legislation would do more harm than good."