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In State of the State, Gov. Mike Dunleavy calls for ‘war on criminals’ and tougher spending limits

  • Author: James Brooks
  • Updated: January 23
  • Published January 22

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy gives his first State of the State speech to a joint session of the Alaska Legislature on Tuesday. Senate President Cathy Giessel, an Anchorage Republican, back left, and House Speaker Pro Tempore Neal Foster, a Nome Democrat, back right, listen to the speech, delivered in the House chamber. (Michael Penn/The Juneau Empire via AP)

JUNEAU — Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy delivered his first State of the State address Tuesday night, reinforcing the free-market, tough-on-crime, dividend-focused message he championed during his election campaign.

In a 24-minute address to a joint session of the Alaska Legislature, the governor also offered a look at some of the ways he plans to implement his campaign promises.

“Number one, we’re going to declare war on criminals,” Dunleavy said. “We’re going to get our spending in line with our revenue. This has to be done. We’re going to protect Alaskans' PFDs. We’re going to grow our economy and put Alaskans to work. And finally, we must restore public trust in government and elected officials. That’s what my plan was last year, and that’s what my plan is now.”

With a nod toward former Libertarian-Republican state legislator Dick Randolph in the audience, Dunleavy said he will propose three constitutional amendments next week. The first would tighten the spending limits that already exist in the Alaska Constitution. The second would constitutionally guarantee the Permanent Fund dividend. The third would require Alaskans to approve any new taxes at the ballot box.

“These three constitutional amendments will require that both the people of Alaska and their elected officials work closely together to secure our future. The people are the key to a permanent fiscal plan. Without the people’s support, any plan put in place by the Legislature will always be in doubt,” Dunleavy said.

Following the address, Rep. Dave Talerico, R-Healy, acknowledged that getting the legislative supermajority needed to approve a constitutional amendment will be difficult when the House cannot muster even a simple majority to approve a permanent speaker of the House. He said even with that hurdle, the House will examine the governor’s proposals.

“They’ll be thoroughly looked at, I’m sure,” he said.

When it comes to crime, Dunleavy said he will introduce “a series of bills and initiatives” Wednesday.

Within his crime package, the governor said, will be a measure to “repeal and replace” the criminal justice reform measure known as Senate Bill 91.

That measure, which offered alternatives to prison for low-level offenses, has already been modified several times by the Legislature, but several lawmakers and the governor made its repeal a priority during the 2018 election.

The governor also said he will support an effort to reopen state courthouses on Friday afternoons. The court week was shortened as a cost-cutting measure by Gov. Bill Walker.

Dunleavy said he will also “expend the necessary resources for additional State Troopers, provide more local control, and more prosecutors.”

On another front, “we will provide the focus and the resources necessary to combat the scourge of opiates and other illicit drugs driving up our crime rates and ruining lives.”

Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, said after the speech that she looks forward to seeing the governor’s legislation.

“If there are good bills out there, you can count on me to be the No. 1 supporter,” she said.

Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage, is chair of the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission. After the speech, he said the governor didn’t answer one key question.

“In the context of a balanced budget, every time you increase something, there’s not unlimited amounts of money, so how are we going to pay for it?” Claman said.

Rep. Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, reminded reporters after the address that the governor has been in office only two months and is still formulating his ideas.

“I don’t have a problem with him taking the time that he needs to analyze what he wants to deliver,” Pruitt said.

To emphasize his drive for crime control, Dunleavy invited Edie and Ben Grunwald of Palmer, and Scotty and Aaliyah Barr from Kotzebue, to attend the speech. The Grunwalds are the parents of David Grunwald, a Palmer teen murdered in 2016. The Barrs are the parents of Ashley Johnson-Barr, a 10-year-old Kotzebue girl who was slain in 2018. Her body was discovered after an extensive search.

Edie Grunwald is a former Republican lieutenant governor candidate who is the new chair of the state parole board.

“Your loss is going to be the catalyst that will push us forward into a safer Alaska,” Dunleavy said.

After the speech, Scotty Barr said, “It’s now for us to act and make our great state of Alaska safer for future generations to come.”

Asked whether he believes Dunleavy’s plan will do that, he said, “I believe that 100 percent.”

The governor said he believes Alaska “must look to other industries and investments to come to Alaska” in order to improve the economy.

To do that, Dunleavy said he has “put together a team that will market Alaska to the world.”

The governor implied that state support for that effort will be limited. He used two domestic companies as an example — Bambino’s Baby Food of Anchorage and Palmer-based Triverus, which manufactures equipment used to clean U.S. Navy aircraft carrier decks.

“He does this with no tax credits or subsidies from the state,” Dunleavy said of Triverus founder Hans Vogel.

Vogel’s business relies on contracts from the federal government. Bambino’s was a participant in the Chinese trade mission organized by former Gov. Walker.

Overall, the governor said, he will bring a different attitude to Alaska.

“I’m here tonight because Alaskans want to chart a different course,” Dunleavy said. “I promise you what I promised during the campaign. Things will be different. Things will be very different.”

Afterward, Rep. Gary Knopp, R-Kenai said he surprised himself with how much he agreed with the governor’s speech.

“I was glad to hear what he had to say, and I wasn’t in too much disagreement,” he said.

Though he’s a Republican, Knopp is uncommitted in the ongoing leadership deadlock within the Alaska House of Representatives.

Rep. Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham and speaker of the House under last session’s coalition government, said the governor left the issue of the budget largely unanswered.

“The question really is, with a state that’s spent nearly all of its savings, and in any scenario we’re going to have a significant budget gap … How do we pay for it?” he said.

By the numbers

Dunleavy’s 3,500-word speech was shorter than any State of the State given by Walker. It was about 56 percent as long as Walker’s 6,200-word speech in 2018. Walker’s 2016 speech was the shortest of his four, at about 5,000 words.

Walker’s 2018 address required 49 minutes, Dunleavy’s address required 24 minutes.

Dunleavy was escorted into the chamber by Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, and Sen. David Wilson, R-Wasilla.

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This article has been edited to reflect that Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage, is chair of the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission, not the Alaska Judicial Council.

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