Gov. Mike Dunleavy

GUEST COMMENTARY: Alaskans will rise to meet latest challenge

Where were you when the pandemic came to Alaska? Future generations will demand an answer from each of us. Did we change our habits to protect the vulnerable? Did we make sure our elderly neighbors had everything they needed? Long after the virus disappears from the public consciousness, these are the questions we’ll be left to grapple with. For so many, we look to government to provide services during a crisis. We forget, as Franklin Roosevelt once said, that “government is ourselves.” It’s understandable. Few have experienced an event of this magnitude. But we are not alone. Generations of Americans stood where we stand today, facing problems of enormous weight – wondering who they were as a people. Invariably, they rose to meet the great challenges of their day. They gave of themselves, sacrificing much to sustain this great American experiment. Alaskans will choose a similar path; I have little doubt. Time and again, be it the Anchorage earthquake, last year’s fire season, or our highest-in-the-nation percentage of veterans, Alaskans consistently reaffirm their commitment to service. You may say, “But I have nothing to contribute.” I would urge you to reconsider. All over the world, people are finding ways to aid their communities by donating their time, skill, and even blood. Perhaps, you hung up your stethoscope years ago to enjoy retirement or pursue a new career. You wonder if your services could be useful. The answer is yes. Maybe you own a manufacturing company that can produce medical equipment, or a rental car company that could offer vehicles to transport volunteers. Others may have the means to contribute to a local food bank or buy supplies for an emergency shelter. All across our state, Alaskans are saying, “I can do that,” and stepping up. At Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, soldiers and airmen are packing meals for needy families; in Anchorage, volunteers are sending out 30-day food supplies to seniors while healthcare workers perform drive-up tests in the cold and snow. Behind the frontlines, our state workers are busy processing business bridge loans, reviewing unemployment insurance cases, and ensuring that your government provides the best possible response to this crisis. Even grocery clerks and delivery drivers are providing a critical service, keeping Alaskans fed and healthy. But the question remains: How will you answer the call? When our children ask, “Where were you?” will we be able to tell them that we served in an army of Alaskans who did everything in their power to look out for one another? If the past is any indicator, I’m confident the answer will be yes. For those that choose to heed the call of service, I offer you the thanks of a grateful state as we face this historic challenge together.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Fighting for safety for Alaska’s women

Nearly seven years ago, 13-year-old Mackenzie Howard was murdered in the tight-knit community of Kake, Alaska. A night passed before the first law enforcement officer arrived from over 100 miles away. While the details change, Mackenzie’s story repeats itself many times over. Tragically, Alaskan women are killed by men at the highest rate in the country, and murder remains the third-highest cause of death for Alaska Native women. According to a University of Alaska Anchorage study, 60 percent of women in Alaska report suffering violence at the hands of an intimate partner. Clearly, our obligation to Alaska’s 350,000 women and girls remains unmet. As governor of Alaska, and proud father of three capable young women, it has been my goal since my first day in office to close this dark chapter in our state’s history. To that end, I signed legislation last summer drastically increasing the penalties and expanding the criteria for rape and sexual abuse. This included repealing the marriage defense for sexual abuse — a major step forward in our fight to end domestic abuse. Our bill also brought Alaska’s criminal code into the 21st century by punishing those who make a habit of harassing women with unsolicited explicit texts. Likewise, funding for law enforcement and victim services received a significant boost this year, allowing us to hire more Alaska State Troopers than any other year in the previous decade. Additionally, our 26 emergency shelter and victim assistance programs received more funding than ever before. I am also proud to report that the Department of Public Safety has cleared the Alaska State Trooper backlog of sexual assault kits that once stood at 650 untested kits. Testing of additional kits submitted by local agencies is funded and well underway, with all previously untested sexual assault kits projected to be processed by the end of 2020. Additionally, DPS has enlisted the University of Alaska Anchorage Justice Center to interview sexual assault victims and conduct research that will enable us to improve our investigative and prosecutorial techniques. The momentum we are building as my administration works to secure resources and attention for this critical issue is tangible. In May, Sen. Dan Sullivan invited Attorney General William Barr to tour our state to personally witness the challenges we face. I had the opportunity to meet with Barr in Anchorage and was encouraged by his desire to partner with us in addressing Alaska’s public safety issues. Shortly after Barr’s visit, the Trump administration delivered a long-overdue federal emergency declaration. With this declaration came $6 million in emergency funding to address public safety infrastructure needs in rural Alaska. The attorney general also announced or extended several tribal grant programs addressing forensic training, rape crisis programs and drug enforcement. Last month, our cause received another major boost with Barr’s announcement of a task force to address the scourge of crimes against indigenous women. Operation Lady Justice aims to coordinate research, establish new grants, and greatly increase available public safety resources, all with one unified goal: bring home our missing indigenous women and girls and deliver long-overdue justice to their tormentors. With Operation Lady Justice comes a new partnership between the Alaska State Troopers, local law enforcement and the FBI. Together, we will standardize law enforcement’s response to missing or murdered Alaska Natives. New rapid deployment teams will help us overcome the mistakes of the past, increasing response times, ensuring reports are properly classified, and fully utilizing the FBI’s tremendous investigative resources. The creation of a new federal coordinator position will ensure that our combined efforts evolve in a research-driven manner. But as I said when I signed our landmark crime-fighting bill in July, this is only the beginning of our work to secure the safety of all Alaskans. The challenge of protecting citizens spread across nearly 600,000 square miles of unincorporated wilderness and remote boroughs cannot be understated. My administration remains hard at work developing strategies that will protect Alaskans wherever they call home. Yet for the first time, I am convinced that we are on the precipice of a turning point. Never before have so many people — from hardworking activists to officials in the highest levels of government — worked together to fight on behalf of Alaskan women. It’s past time for us to do right by those who we, as a state and a nation, have long failed. Mike Dunleavy is the 12th governor of Alaska.
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