A spokeswoman for Gov. Sean Parnell disclosed additional details Wednesday about a trip the governor took this week to meet with leaders of the conservative evangelical group Focus on the Family.
Parnell left Anchorage Monday afternoon to travel to Colorado, where he had been invited by Focus on the Family leadership, according to spokeswoman Sharon Leighow. Although the invitation was extended by Focus on the Family, the trip was paid for by the state, and Parnell was accompanied by a state aide. Leighow said she didn't know yet how much the trip cost.
"Focus on the Family shared many good ideas that the governor could utilize in Alaska," Leighow said. "That was the purpose of the trip." (We didn't ask Leighow whether the governor has received similar invitations from, say, PFLAG or the Colorado Springs Pride Center.)
Leighow said she didn't know whether the organization identified particular areas of interest when it invited Parnell to Colorado, but was able to say that the governor traded ideas about domestic violence, foster care and adoption with Focus on the Family CEO Jim Daly and other senior staff. Focus on the Family and its political arm, CitizenLink, are active in the anti-abortion movement, but Leighow said as far as she knew, the issue of abortion was not discussed at the meeting.
"That wasn't the purpose of this trip," Leighow said.
Parnell's own opposition to abortion made headlines recently when the governor vetoed an expansion of Denali Kid Care, a state-run program that provides health care coverage for low-income children and expectant mothers, saying he'd only recently learned the program sometimes covers abortions. The veto angered Democrats, who accused Parnell of playing politics with children's health.
Parnell's veto also impressed some in the state, including members of the Alaska Family Council, a state organization closely aligned with Focus on the Family. Alaska Family Council president Jim Minnery praised Parnell in a newsletter sent to supporters the day after the governor vetoed the Denali Kid Care expansion. Reached by phone Wednesday, Minnery had praise for the governor's trip to Colorado, too.
"If he's getting advice from Focus on the Family we couldn't be happier, because they're going to give him good advice," Minnery said.
While in Colorado, Leighow said, Parnell also met with Darrell Scott, the founder of Rachel's Challenge, a Littleton organization that promotes "permanent positive culture change" in schools and businesses. The group is named for Scott's daughter Rachel, who was the first student killed in the 1999 attack on Columbine High School. Rachel's Challenge (which describes itself as a "non-religious, non-political, non-profit organization") presents educational programs that teach kindness and compassion in the classroom and the workplace.
In a post on his Facebook page late Tuesday night, Parnell said, "Met today with Focus on the Family leadership regarding the Choose Respect initiative in Alaska and how other states have moved to help families thrive (in the foster care/adoption arena in particular); also spoke with the founder of Rachel's Challenge--regarding reducing violence in schools and fostering character values there."
Contact Joshua Saul at jsaul(at)alaskadispatch.com.