Kyle Hopkins

Dunleavy Q&A: Rural education, public safety and how to pay for it

NOORVIK — Dec. 3 marked the first day on the job for Gov. Mike Dunleavy, the Republican former state senator who won a lopsided victory over Democrat Mark Begich. Speaking to inauguration crowds in Northwest Alaska, Dunleavy repeated campaign promises of battling crime — “We are not going to tolerate any more sexual assault,” he said in Kotzebue — and improving rural education. He has also vowed to deliver a super-sized Permanent Fund dividend after his predecessor, independent Gov. Bill Walker, fell out of favor, in part, because of his insistence on using fund earnings to help pay for government services. As a candidate, Dunleavy was criticized by opponents who said his promises would eventually deplete Alaska’s piggy bank without refilling it through taxes or other means. Now joined by a Republican-controlled Legislature, Dunleavy takes the reins with the potential to make big changes to life in Alaska. Hours after he was sworn in to the state’s highest political office, Dunleavy spoke to Daily News reporters about what he plans to do and how he says he would pay for it. Q. You talked today in Kotzebue and Noorvik about public safety in particular Bush public safety — saying it was your top priority? A. That is job No. 1. We have to make sure that Alaskans are safe whether it’s urban Alaska or rural Alaska. And that is what we are gonna focus on. Q. There are dozens of villages with no police at all. What is the state’s role in fixing that problem? A. We have a role to make sure folks are safe. This is our first day. It’s a couple hours old, this administration. But we’re going to be having meetings this week about how to put our public safety approach into place. We’ll be naming a couple more cabinet members on Wednesday. Once we do that, we’re going to start to roll out a series of initiatives to make Alaska safer. Q. Were any prosecutors fired today? A. I’d have to double check on that. I know that a number of folks got a letter to send in their resignations and I know that there’s going to be some discussions with people. The vast majority of people are going to end up most likely being brought back into the administration. Q. The one thing I didn’t hear you say today — but speakers in Noorvik talked about — was climate change or global warming and their concerns about the weather. What’s the state’s responsibility? A. I came from Pennsylvania, which was a smokestack state. Places like Pittsburgh, Philadelphia. Alaska’s footprint in terms of being a contributor to pollution or however you want to word it is pretty small compared to other states in the U.S. So my focus has been trying to create jobs for our kids and grandkids so they don’t have to leave the state. The issue of global warming, in many respects, it’s still being debated as to how to deal with it, what exactly is causing it. I know there’s a lot of folks and scientists who believe that man is contributing to this. But the question is, what is Alaska’s role in this? What is Alaska doing? Alaska is being affected by erosion, there’s no doubt about it. Whether it’s Barrow, Kivalina, Shishmaref and points south. So that’s going to be the focus of this administration and the federal government, is working together and seeing what are we going to do with those communities. Because if the storms keep rolling in, obviously there is going to be more erosion. Q. Today you talked about not closing rural schools. You talked about beefing up police in the Bush and keeping your promise on a big dividend. All those things are expensive. How can you pay for them when we are in a time of low revenues and bad prospects? A. You pay for the PFD with $19 billion in the Earnings Reserve. That’s not a hard one. Q. Isn’t it less than $19 billion? A. $18 billion, 800 million. Projected to grow over the next couple months. Probably will surpass $20 billion here shortly. But nonetheless, that’s how you pay for the PFD. We’re starting to crack open the administration right now and looking at the number of jobs that were not filled. Maybe the number of jobs that we don’t need. We can move some of those resources into public safety. That will be the first thing that is budgeted is public safety … you can’t fix it unless you do that. Your educational system, what I’ve talked about is working with governmental entities, the federal government, tribes and others to potentially build dorm capacity in some of our regional hubs like Kotzebue. And they’ve already done that. We have dorms in Kotzebue. But how many other dorms do they need for term type of regional schools where kids, for example, from Noorvik can go to Kotzebue and learn how to drive. Get certifications in a number of different areas. Take some challenging courses such as physics labs and biology labs, which you might not be able to get in a smaller school. That’s what we’re looking at doing, but partnering with the federal government, partnering with some of the tribes. Q. After the quake hit, did you think about whether or not to have the ceremony today and wonder if it might pull you away for too long from where you’re needed? A. Well sure, we had that debate. We didn’t know the extent of the damage. We didn’t know the extent of the attention it was going to need for our administration, which wasn’t in place yet. We had those discussions with the governor. We had those discussions with the first responders at the command center down at JBER and within our own transition team. And it was touch-and-go up until a day or so ago. But thank God the injuries weren’t there. Certainly no deaths, which is a miracle. We didn’t have any pancaked buildings. We didn’t have any bridges actually come down. So the damage was, given the size of that earthquake and the aftershocks, the damage was a lot less than I think most of us thought. So the response to deal with that is more than adequate. Folks out here put a lot of effort into this event, so we figured we could get out this morning, do the event and get back. We’ll be back in Anchorage by about 5 o’clock. In many respects about commitment. We wanted to have it here. We told them we were coming. People spent a lot of time, a lot of energy putting this together. … It was important. Too often there are parts of Alaska that feel forgotten.

Dunleavy sworn in as recovery continues from Friday quake

NOORVIK — As Noorvik elders sang “Arigaa” in the high school gymnasium, Mike Dunleavy was sworn in 40 miles across the frosted tundra in Kotzebue to become the 12th governor of Alaska. More than 100 villagers, elders seated in the front row, watched live-stream video of the ceremony and roared with cheers when Dunleavy’s wife, Rose, who lived in Noorvik, appeared on the screen. Watch the video here. Third-graders sang “My Country 'Tis of Thee” in Inupiaq. Speakers talked about keeping Southcentral Alaska, still reeling from a massive earthquake, in their prayers. A persistent fog thwarted Dunleavy’s plans to hold the inauguration in this Inupiat village of 669 people, and former Gov. Bill Walker stayed in Anchorage to grapple with the aftermath of the 7.0 quake. Dunleavy told the crowd that the people of Kotzebue whipped together a swearing-in ceremony just 90 minutes after the decision was made to divert to that hub city. The Alaska Constitution calls for the governor-elect to be sworn in before noon, and a Dunleavy spokeswoman said he was traveling with a judge and would take the oath on the airplane if necessary. “This is how we do it in rural Alaska," Dunleavy told the audience of mostly Alaska Natives, vowing that he would make public safety, particularly in the Bush, a top priority. “I’ll never forget you," said Dunleavy, who worked as a teacher and school superintendent for several years above the Arctic Circle. Plans change amid earthquake recovery (via Becky Bohrer, Associated Press) Dunleavy initially planned to make a 65-mile trek by snowmachine from the Western Alaska hub city of Kotzebue to Noorvik for the swearing-in. Noorvik is a tiny Inupiat Eskimo village above the Arctic Circle where his wife, Rose, is from. But transition spokeswoman Sarah Erkmann Ward said those plans would have required an overnight stay in Kotzebue. Given the ongoing earthquake response, Dunleavy decided to abbreviate his trip, she said. He plans to fly to Noorvik on a private charter from Anchorage on Monday, she said. Rural Noorvik mainly is accessible by plane and boat, on the Kobuk River. Locals commonly get around using snowmachines and ATVs. Dunleavy said he has been in close contact with Gov. Bill Walker about the emergency response. And Walker said Friday he did not expect the recovery to be affected by the transition in administrations. Walker said his administration advised Dunleavy's team of what it was doing and that some members of Dunleavy's team were involved in what Walker's administration was doing. A magnitude 7.0 earthquake rocked Anchorage and other parts of Southcentral Alaska on Friday, shaking buildings, buckling roads and spawning nerve-wracking aftershocks. Walker said Sunday he and Lt. Gov. Valerie Davidson would not attend the swearing-in and instead would stay in Anchorage to help with reopening state buildings. Walker’s term expires at noon Monday. He said he wished Dunleavy well. It is unusual, but not unprecedented, for an Alaska governor to be sworn in outside the capital city of Juneau, though Dunleavy's ceremony will be the first to take place above the Arctic Circle. Former Govs. Sarah Palin and Sean Parnell had their events in Fairbanks, one of Alaska's largest cities. The swearing-in typically kicks off a celebratory season for new governors. Dunleavy previously announced events around Alaska during December. Dunleavy has just six weeks before the start of the next legislative session, when Alaskans will be watching to see how he plans to act on key campaign pledges. He rankled some when shortly after his election, his transition chief sent letters to about 800 at-will state employees asking them to offer their resignations and indicate whether they wanted to continue working under Dunleavy. "The Chief Executive is the one responsible for ensuring that the right people are in place to best fulfill the promises made and restore trust between the people and their government," Dunleavy said in a statement. During the campaign, Dunleavy said he wanted to limit government growth and reduce spending, though was criticized for failing to offer many specifics. Details are expected in his budget plan. Debate also is expected over whether, or how far to, unravel a major criminal justice overhaul amid an ongoing public outcry over crime. One of the big issues in the campaign was the future of the annual check Alaskans receive from the state's oil-wealth fund, the Alaska Permanent Fund. Dunleavy said he supported a full payout of the check and paying Alaskans the amount they missed out on when annual checks were capped. Preliminary budget estimates suggest those pieces alone could cost $4.3 billion, though Dunleavy said he saw it as a way to help restore trust with Alaskans. The check has been capped since 2016 amid a budget deficit. Legislators earlier this year began using fund earnings to help fill much of the deficit. Earnings are used to pay the yearly check, setting up a political fight. Sen. John Coghill, a North Pole Republican, said resolving debate over the dividend is critical, and some methodology for a dividend will need to be advanced. He said he does not favor repaying money from the past three years and doesn't think a full dividend under the current formula is a "slam dunk," either. "I think it'll be a painful, deliberate and highly volatile discussion," he said. Anchorage Sen. Mia Costello, the incoming Senate majority leader, said legislators have heard from Alaskans that protecting and growing the dividend is important. She said she's dedicated to that. “What form that takes has yet to be decided,” Costello said, noting the discussion needs to go beyond the legal formula that has not been followed since 2016. She said she will look for long-term sustainability of a “healthy” dividend.

Young cruises to 24th term over newcomer Galvin

Alaska U.S. Rep. Don Young notched another re-election win Nov. 6, leading independent challenger Alyse Galvin by nine points to keep his title as the longest-serving member of Congress. With 98 percent of precincts counted statewide, Young held 54 percent of the vote to Galvin’s nearly 46 percent. Victory was never in doubt, he said in a scolding interview with reporters. “The people of Alaska, I thank them,” he said. “They’ve supported me these years and I’ve supported them and that’s what it’s all about.” Galvin’s campaign watched the returns in an overflowing ballroom at 49th State Brewing Co. in downtown Anchorage, dancing beneath moose antler chandeliers. A speaker took the stage and read the first percentages to the crowd, who replied with a chorus of boos. Galvin said she was inspired by her supporters and disappointed by the vote count, with Young’s lead growing throughout the night. “Every town I go to I hear new stories about the needs, the wishes, the hopes of Alaskans and it inspires me to want to work harder to ensure the people of Alaska are truly getting what they deserve,” she said. “Real representation when it comes to basic needs of pharmaceutical drug costs, housing, jobs with livable wages. These are real issues.” Craig Compeau, a Fairbanks boat and snowmachine dealer and longtime Young supporter, said before the election that Galvin had been light on specifics during her campaign and that he had urged Young to attack her on policy. “All she talks about is rolling up her sleeves,” Compeau said. “If she wants to save some time, she should just get a short-sleeved shirt.” The crowd of Galvin supporters on Election Night included a trio of young women who described the independent candidate as a role model. Dona Kubina stood among them wearing a “Nasty Women” shirt — a nod to President Trump’s campaign debate remarks about Hillary Clinton — as she made her way through the throng. “I’ve never seen anyone work as hard as her on a campaign,” Kubina said. But in Alaska, the dynamics that appeared to deliver control of the U.S. House to Democrats failed to dislodge Young, the most stubborn of Republican incumbents. Young, who has served as Alaska’s sole congressman since 1973, had faced his most well-funded challenger yet in Galvin. A first-time candidate, Galvin hoped to become the first woman to serve as the state’s U.S representative. Young, 85, sought to maintain a 45-year winning streak. Galvin, 53, portrayed the incumbent as beholden to special interests and campaigned on delivering job growth, better health care and education. Young cast himself as an experienced warrior for Alaska interests. National analysts such as FiveThirtyEight and the Cook Political Report considered Alaska to be “leaning Republican” but saw Galvin as within striking distance of Young. (The Cook report listed Alaska among House Districts that were only in play due to “Republicans with self-inflicted wounds,” meaning red districts where Democrats or independents would normally not be considered competitive.) Galvin’s voter registration is “undeclared.” With her August victory in the Democratic primary, she became the first independent candidate to represent the party in the general election. Young portrayed her as a liberal and potential ally to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. His campaign ads — using imagery of falling bombs — warned of “the mother of all tax hikes” if she won election. Galvin ads said she would refuse gifts from lobbyists and special interests — possibly a nod to a 2014 finding that Young broke ethics rules by accepting hunting trips, rides on private planes and other gifts and failing to report them on disclosure forms. Galvin raised far more money, collecting $1.4 million as of mid-October. That’s a larger war chest than any Young opponent, including current Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, who challenged Young in 2008 and lost by five points. The last time Young received less than 50 percent of the vote was 1992, against Democrat John Devens. Of Galvin’s total, at least $409,000 was donated through ActBlue, an online fundraising platform that connects political donors with progressive candidates. Young campaign manager Jerry Hood said the donations received via ActBlue show Galvin was supported by “the Democratic machine.” Galvin vowed not to take money from corporate political action committees and at a September forum criticized Young’s receipt of corporate funding. Young raised $1.04 million. He received $482,000 from PACs representing corporations, unions and other interests. Young has earned the nickname “Teflon Don” for overcoming scandal and setbacks that might derail other candidates. Like the time he apologized for insensitive remarks on suicide. Or the time he called California farm workers “wetbacks.” Or was caught on camera twisting the wrist of a congressional staffer. The 2018 campaign was, in comparison, a peaceful affair. In interviews, Galvin downplayed one flare-up, in which she appeared to react in pain as Young shook her hand during an appearance at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention. Young’s campaign called it a moment of theater by Galvin while Galvin said it was a “cheap bully tactic” by Young. Young waved away reporters’ questions about whether the outcome was ever in doubt. “Mostly that was made up by the media. I know the numbers pretty well,” he said. Those who know Young best saw the victory coming. Early on Election Day, Galvin stopped for lunch at the Lucky Wishbone, a downtown fried chicken joint that serves as the beating heart of Election Day politics. Galvin was greeted by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who said she’s grateful that her name won’t appear on a ballot again until 2022. Young has been Alaska’s congressman since before Murkowski, 61, was old enough to vote. She told the Daily News she never doubted he would survive this latest challenge too. “Don Young has nine lives. He has not used them up,” she said. Reporter Alex DeMarban and photojournalist Marc Lester contributed to this story.
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