Gov. Mike Dunleavy presided over the annual State of the State speech Monday night, issuing a call to Alaska lawmakers to help take control of the state’s narrative for the next generation.
“We have a chance to change the state of history, but we can’t accept the way things have been done,” Dunleavy said.
Dunleavy touted the state’s ability to overcome adversity leveled against it over the past four years, including the COVID pandemic, a large deficit, the 2019 earthquake that caused significant damage to Southcentral Alaska and Anchorage, wildfires and high crime rates.
“Nearly everything has been thrown at us except locust,” Dunleavy said.
He noted the state preserved through the pandemic, with one of the lowest death tolls, the ability to keep industry open and respect for local control.
“We are still here and standing,” Dunleavy said.
Dunleavy remarked on the past four years of his administration, including investment in law enforcement and the Village Public Safety Officer program, bringing the rural law enforcement program from 40 officers to 68 at the end of 2022. He cited a declining statewide crime rate he called the lowest in 41 years.
“We all know it’s difficult to be a public safety officer, but we are grateful for the individuals who step up to do it for us,” Dunleavy said. “Alaska is safer today than it was four years ago thanks to the men and women in law enforcement and the resources and policies we’ve put in place..”
Another achievement, he added, was the clearing of a massive backlog in sexual assault test kits.
“There are policies in place to ensure that these backlogs never happen again.” Dunleavy said.
He noted the state has taken steps in updating its sexual consent laws.
“We now have laws to persecute these perpetrators,” Dunleavy said.
However, he said that, while updated consent laws were signed into law, it was not done until the last day of the 2022 legislative cycle and done by lawmakers who placed people over politics.
Dunleavy said his administration plans to introduce legislation that would crack down on the fentanyl crisis he said is taking hold of Alaska.
He stressed the dangers of the synthetic opioid that illegal drug manufacturers are using to lace more common street drugs, adding that a small dose is all it takes to kill a person.
Some legislation he plans to support includes harsher prison sentences for dealers who sell fentanyl that causes a death. Under the proposed law, a person can be charged for second-degree murder, raising the prison sentence to 99 years.
“We are going to lock you up and throw away the key,” Dunleavy said. “We will be relentless in the pursuit of justice.”
He added the state also needs to invest more in drug rehabilitation, noting it will take money.
Dunleavy said he plans to dedicate more resources into the Health Families initiative, asking for funding to expand postpartum Medicare coverage from 60 days to 12 months for new mothers. He added the initiative would dedicate funding to recruiting and retaining healthcare professionals needed over the next decade and battle the state’s tuberculosis.
He noted the University of Alaska’s investments in energy, mining, oil and unmanned aviation will secure the state’s place at the forefront of research.
Dunleavy advocated for expanding the State Defense Force, adding it’s the backbone for state and national security, including response to emergencies such as September’s Typhoon Merbok.
“A stronger State Defense Force will enable a more secure and independent Alaska,” he said.
He pledged more resources to dealing with declining fisheries and the state’s overall food security issues, including development of a flash freeze facility in the state’s Point Mackenzie correctional facility.
CONTROLLING THE NARRATIVE
Dunleavy called on lawmakers to assist with taking charge of the state’s narrative, chiefly the perception by outside interests.
“In many respects, we’ve been stereotyped as a land of fish and igloos, frigid temperatures and fat bears,” Dunleavy said. “We’re a place everyone wants to visit and people want to shoot a reality TV show.”
He noted the perceptions impact policies and politics “which can do real harm to Alaska in our future.”
“Sixty-four years after we’ve joined the union, Alaska is still fighting for its right to be a sovereign state by the federal government that is on equal footing with other states,” Dunleavy said.
He called out the Biden administration for policies that have hampered or restricted mineral and oil developments. He noted the White House issued 41 executive actions to restrict development such as Ambler Mine.
“There is a constant stream of people from Outside trying to turn Alaska into their fairytale image of a national park where income can be produced merely on love and goodwill,” Dunleavy said. “As governor and legislators, we have a moral obligation to ensure we fulfill the promise of statehood.”
Dunleavy said he intends to dedicate more resources to litigation and to research to back up litigation against the federal government in order to ensure the state has control over its resource development.
He noted Alaska has some of the strictest environmental development and response laws in the nation, along with an imperative to develop its resources in a responsible manner.
“We are blessed with the resources of today and tomorrow,” Dunleavy said. “We will continue to lead in the production of oil and natural gas, conventional and critical minerals.”
Dunleavy touted his new carbon management goal, which he said could generate billions over the next 20 years.
“I believe what we do in the next four months will set Alaska on the course not just for the next four years but for the next generation,” Dunleavy said. “I’m asking you to seize this moment in history.”
Dunleavy broadcast his stance as an abortion rights opponent Monday night.
“My administration is ready to work with you over the next four years to achieve the goal to make Alaska the most pro-life state in the country,” Dunleavy said. “We need more people in Alaska, not less. We need more people in our jobs, in our schools, who create wealth, solving Alaska’s problems and the world’s.”
He added people aren’t a “nebulous, abstract concept.”
“People are what this is all about,” Dunleavy said. “Government is about serving the people and they are why we are here — the people of Alaska today and the people of Alaska tomorrow.”
He said the state can enact policies such as his Health Families Initiative that address issues such as inflation, high costs of living,
“To compete for the next 50 years, we need Alaska to be a healthy, affordable place for families to be,” Dunleavy said. “We’ve been fed a narrative over the years, unfortunately, that if followed conclusively to its logical conclusion, leads to our own demise.”
He said policies will come forward to reject such narratives.
“Kids are a blessing and shouldn’t be seen as a burden,” Dunleavy said. “But we have to accept that raising a family today is more challenging than when we were growing up.”
He added if the administration and legislature are successful, the state can enact policies that reduce the cost of living “and make it affordable to raise a family in Alaska.”
Those policies, he said, include economic drivers, healthcare system improvements and job creations.