In the wake of an election night that brought an end to Alaska's expensive and bruising campaign season, the dust is settling on a new look for the governor's office and Legislature. On the whole, it was a good night for Republican candidates, with a clear victory by gubernatorial candidate Mike Dunleavy and the defeats of two moderates, Rep. Paul Seaton and Rep. Jason Grenn, who had caucused with Democrats in the last Legislature's House Bipartisan Majority Caucus. But what does that mean for state government — and for Alaskans — in the coming year?
The governor's office
Gov.-elect Dunleavy won by a nine-point margin Tuesday, a strong result indicating his promises to restore the statutory formula for funding Permanent Fund dividends and pledge to repeal criminal justice reform bill Senate Bill 91 resonated with Alaska voters. He will also be working with a Legislature likely to be run by Republican majority caucuses in both houses, which could make the task of passing his agenda easier.
What will that agenda look like? It's not yet entirely clear. The first major road map of the course Dunleavy plans to take in office will come in the form of his budget, which he is due to submit in December. He has promised to focus first on cuts, saying he would only turn to revenue measures as a last resort, and then only with the consent of Alaskans. But he has also told Alaskans he will return the dividend to its statutory formula and repay the difference between that formula and the amount paid to Alaskans during the past three years, which adds up to thousands of dollars per person. That multibillion-dollar disbursement will make budget math difficult, even if Gov.-elect Dunleavy is able to find hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts above and beyond what Gov. Bill Walker and the Legislature managed during the past four years. Ideas floated so far are a freeze on state hiring, travel and transfers that Dunleavy should be able to implement near-immediately, as well as the rooting-out of thousands of funded but unfilled positions that he said could save as much as $200 million. The governor-elect should begin work on those budget promises immediately.
One major question mark is the state's path forward on pursuit of a natural gas pipeline; Gov.-elect Dunleavy should continue the permitting process for state efforts to develop its gas and expeditiously review the Walker administration's AKLNG project plans. If there are to be changes made, Alaskans should be told sooner rather than later so that momentum toward a gas line continues.
The good news for Dunleavy is that it seems likely he will have a more friendly Legislature to deal with than Gov. Walker faced. Republicans have a majority in the Senate. Unless a close race, such as in House District 1, changes its result, they will have one in the House as well. In fact, a tentative Republican caucus organization plan emerged Wednesday, with Rep. Dave Talerico of Healy poised to serve as speaker and Reps. Lance Pruitt of Anchorage and Tammie Wilson of North Pole set to co-chair the House Finance Committee. That organization indicates alignment with Dunleavy on government philosophy, as Rep. Wilson in particular has been an ardent proponent for more cuts to state functions and an opponent of revenue measures, especially taxes.
But there may not be alignment on every issue: Asked at the House majority's organizational press conference about the likelihood the caucus would follow through with Gov.-elect Dunleavy's plan to pay a full statutory dividend plus a catch-up disbursement to Alaskans, Rep. Talerico voiced support for returning to the dividend formula, but avoided endorsement of the catch-up payment. Especially if the Republican House majority caucus ends up a 21-member group, as it appeared Wednesday, the more contentious planks of the legislative agenda could be difficult to pass. This is a good thing — our government works best when the branches of government are willing to keep each other in check, regardless of whether they're controlled by the same party.
Ballot Measure 1
Handed a resounding defeat at the polls on Tuesday, Ballot Measure 1 will not become law. During the argument over the measure that sought to set a higher burden for development and greater protections for anadromous fish habitat, some in opposition criticized it as overbroad and said they could support smaller, more targeted protections for fish. But given the magnitude of the defeat handed to proponents, it's hard to say whether smaller pieces of the measure — incorporating public hearings into the state permitting process, for instance — will garner support during the coming legislative session. Particularly given the number of major priorities likely to take precedence, such as the budget, the future of the Permanent Fund dividend and crime legislation, prospects for even a piecemeal revival of Ballot Measure 1 components appear dim. On the whole, its crushing defeat shows Alaskans remain nervous about the state's slow recovery from recession and a reticence to implement measures that could imperil that recovery. The state's leaders should take heed.
The coming days and weeks will prove instructive with regard to Alaska's path forward, as the few question marks hanging over legislative races are addressed and Gov.-elect Dunleavy selects his Cabinet and drafts his budget. As Alaskans follow the process, they should hold the new governor and legislators responsible for following through on the priorities that formed the basis for their support — and communicating with them directly if they fail to do so.
The views expressed here are those of the Anchorage Daily News, as expressed by its editorial board, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. Current editorial board members are Ryan Binkley, Andy Pennington, Julia O'Malley, Tom Hewitt and Andrew Jensen. To submit a piece for consideration, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to email@example.com or click here to submit via any web browser.