Dunleavy thrives on dividing Alaskans

Regardless of the headlines and what you see in the news, Alaskans take care of each other. Even with differences of opinion on masking and other measures, the vast majority of Alaskans know that the enemy is the COVID-19 virus, not each other.

So why does Gov. Mike Dunleavy keep speaking out of both sides of his mouth, and why does he keep fanning the flames of these fights? In one moment, he stands silently next to Dr. Anne Zink as she pleads with Alaskans to mitigate spread by vaccinating, masking and keeping social circles small, and in the next moment, he taunts those who wear masks as “virtue signaling” and compares stronger vaccination efforts to the Holocaust.

A recent example of such behavior shows that this is not part of any logical leadership strategy to help our state through the pandemic, but rather it’s simply an effort to dog-whistle to his base of supporters and continue dividing Alaskans.

Last week, Gov. Dunleavy broadcast a social media message actually applauding law enforcement officers in the Lower 48 who have been fired for disobeying orders to get vaccinated. Further, he encouraged these officers to relocate to Alaska. There are so many things wrong with the message, it’s difficult to know where to begin.

First, assuming this is more than a mere stunt by the governor, does he intend to have these unvaccinated officers join the Alaska State Troopers? Recruiting a high number of unvaccinated troopers and then deploying them to rural Alaska -- areas where health care facilities are often sparse -- seems like a recipe for disaster. Dunleavy’s idea would endanger rural Alaskans.

Second, by any math, the vast majority of law enforcement officers around the country are choosing to do the right thing for their communities by vaccinating. Well more than 90% of those in law enforcement organizations requiring vaccination have complied. The real question here is how do the vast majority of public safety officers who did the right thing feel about seeing those who disobey their superiors’ orders and endanger the public elevated and venerated by “leaders” like Dunleavy?

Finally, although Dunleavy claims to “back the blue,” his cynically opportunistic message shows the opposite to be true. There is currently no greater threat to the lives of law enforcement officers than COVID-19. A report from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund contains some heartbreaking statistics. In 2020, the organization reported a nearly 150% increase in law enforcement Line of Duty Deaths (“LODDs”), to a total of 371. Of those deaths, 242 (or 65%) were COVID-related. And so far in 2021, we are on a similar trajectory, with 255 LODDs so far, and 144 of those deaths caused by COVID-19. In short, COVID-19 is far and away the biggest current cause of death for law enforcement officers. Yet Gov. Dunleavy is actively praising and uplifting those who oppose vaccination, which is the single most effective tool to protect their lives. Would Dunleavy similarly praise depriving law enforcement officers of ballistic vests? Of course not.

So, why does Gov. Dunleavy continue to send messages that are contrary to the advice of Dr. Zink? Why does he continue to communicate in ways that only serve to divide Alaskans and make them less safe? Pure politics. COVID-19 is simply one example. Another is the Permanent Fund dividend. He doesn’t try to reach common ground by negotiating with legislators or bring Alaskans together to discuss the tradeoffs required by our current fiscal situation. Instead, he does things like lie about the actual numbers and refer to legislators who disagree with him as “thieves,” even running publicly funded political ads against them (such as the ones currently running against Sen. Bert Stedman).

Gov. Dunleavy has no vision to lead Alaska, so he knows the only way he can hang on is to turn us against one another, then capitalize on the anger he’s created. Vaccines are not a real controversy -- we’ve required them for decades for diseases such as smallpox and polio, and the result is millions of lives saved and largely the eradication of those diseases. Whether or not to vaccinate is a manufactured controversy that Gov. Dunleavy wants us to fight over rather than work together.

Don’t take the bait. Alaskans are strongest when we work together. We can disagree without being disagreeable. But we must not fall into the trap of rewarding the bad behavior of those so-called “leaders” who continue to put their political fortunes above the safety and well-being of their constituents.

Scott Kendall served as chief of staff under Gov. Bill Walker. He is now an attorney in private practice.

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