In a series of interviews with national conservative media outlets this month, Gov. Mike Dunleavy has launched an aggressive defense of his policies and against the recall campaign.
Republicans and the governor say he’s taking his message national because of dissatisfaction with coverage by Alaska media. But recall proponents say he’s stretching the truth, and some lawmakers believe an overly aggressive attitude toward opponents could create friction during the next legislative session.
Political consultants say there’s a side benefit to an Outside pitch: National coverage makes it easier for the governor to raise money for his recall defense.
The governor avoids traveling, public speaking and formal interviews, which makes his recent publicity swing unusual. He has repeatedly turned down interview requests with Alaska TV, radio and print media.
The governor’s office did not respond to requests for comment on his recent media appearances.
Art Hackney, a longtime Republican political consultant and lifelong Alaskan, said while interviews with Fox News, the Daily Caller, syndicated talk radio and Breitbart News are aimed at a nationwide audience, they also reach Republicans in Alaska.
“The venues that Gov. Dunleavy is going to are trusted by a broad cross-section of what would be called his base here,” he said.
Marc Hellenthal, an Anchorage political analyst who operates a polling firm, said national appearances also raise the governor’s appeal among wealthy Outside donors who might be encouraged to contribute to his defense. In Alaska, he said, the biggest donors have historically opposed the governor because they fear the possibility that the state could levy an income tax if Permanent Fund earnings are used for bigger dividends instead of state services.
“Here in Alaska, the people who have money are basically those who feel their oxes are being gored,” he said. “Those with the money tend to be lined up with the recall side.”
Because of a gap in the state’s campaign finance laws, anyone can donate an unlimited amount of money to a recall campaign — or a recall defense — before the recall petition is finalized.
Several Republican leaders said they believe that if the governor is unhappy with media coverage in Alaska, it makes sense for him to find a way to tell his own story.
But the governor’s combative tone in the national media veers from his approach with some in-state audiences, including his appearance at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention on Oct. 17.
"We all know the budget discussions were very difficult and at times contentious this past year. I will be the first to say that as governor I must take responsibility for my part in this process and I will work hard to ensure the budget process goes much more smoothly this year. I will make every effort to incorporate the perspective of all Alaskans,” the governor said.
Hours later, Fox News aired an interview with host Neil Cavuto in which Dunleavy said “some folks on the left” don’t agree with his budget plan and want to reverse the results of the 2018 election that put him in office.
He labeled his opponents “special interests” and “folks that want a larger government.”
“It’s those special interests who are trying to redo the election here in Alaska and trying to impeach the president now nationally," the governor told Breitbart News in an interview earlier this month.
Claire Pywell, campaign manager for the recall effort, called the governor’s statement a “total mischaracterization.”
She said over 60% of people who participated in the first round of signature gathering are registered nonpartisan or undeclared voters.
Hellenthal said the governor’s move to cast his opponents as radicals makes sense strategically, given that one of the basic rules of politics is to convince voters to like you more — or dislike you less — than your opponent.
In speeches given at Republican events, the governor has emphasized similarities between his actions and those of President Donald Trump. He has continued to do so during his recent communications with national media, including in a column published Wednesday by Real Clear Politics, in which Dunleavy supports the president’s attitude toward immigration.
But the governor also will have to work with the Alaska Legislature in the coming months, and his comments have gotten a mixed reception among lawmakers.
Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, said in a written statement that progress on the state’s issues requires respect across political lines.
“We can only overcome the political division plaguing our state if political leaders consistently treat all Alaskans with respect. Respect begins with speaking the same about people regardless of where they fall on the political spectrum, and it requires us to always accurately describe the challenges we face and our vision for the future,” he wrote.
Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla, who has generally supported the governor, said it makes sense for the Dunleavy to vary his message according to his audience.
“This is just politics, the way I see it,” he said.
He only wishes the governor were out in public more — something his supporters in the Alaska Senate have been urging.
“If you want to get your message out, you’ve got to get out in front of the camera, in front of the microphone,” he said. “In my opinion, they should have been more out front in trying to execute their agenda.”