Gov. Mike Dunleavy was sworn in for a second term in office on Monday, promising to work across the political aisle to address issues facing the state but offering few specifics for his four-year term.
The Republican governor won reelection last month with more than half the votes, besting three opponents to become the first Alaska governor to earn a second consecutive term since Tony Knowles won reelection in 1998.
At a ceremony at the Alaska Airlines Center on the University of Alaska Anchorage campus, Dunleavy and new Lt. Gov. Nancy Dahlstrom were celebrated with prayers, singing and Alaska Native dancing.
“I’m going to work with everybody and anybody. I’ll be working across the aisle with individuals,” said Dunleavy. “Big decisions loom on the horizon — ones that will take cooperation, compromise among all Alaska with very different ideas about how to solve our problems.”
In his remarks to an audience of around 200 — including some lawmakers, department commissioners, staff and lobbyists — Dunleavy emphasized his priorities of advancing Alaska’s strategic advantages, resource development, and public safety. He also alluded to investments in education and shoring up the state’s declining population.
“Alaska is in an interesting position on the globe,” Dunleavy said. “There are models that indicate — and we can see that ourselves — that the Arctic is warming. It’s going to put Alaska at the forefront of international trade and international relations, especially in the Pacific and especially in the Arctic.”
“But really what we have to do as we look to the future is we’ve got to invest in ourselves — we have to invest in our people, we have to invest in our kids,” Dunleavy said.
Reflecting on his first term in office, Dunleavy focused on the slew of disasters he has had to contend with, including the COVID-19 pandemic, earthquakes, and other natural disasters.
“I’m sure that some people are saying to themselves, ‘What’s next? Locusts? Volcanoes?” he said.
With hundreds of seats left empty in the arena, it was an event vastly different that the governor’s first inauguration, planned in the Northwest Alaska village where his wife Rose is from. The governor’s message has also shifted. Dunleavy — who campaigned ahead of his 2018 victory on larger Permanent Fund dividends — made no mention of the annual checks on Monday.
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Dunleavy said Monday he looks forward to working with the Legislature, but uncertainty hangs over what that will mean. While the Senate has announced a bipartisan majority coalition, control of the House remains undecided. Under current standings, 21 Republicans and 19 Democrats have won their House seats. But lawsuits, a possible recount, and internal politicking mean lawmakers still don’t know if the House will be governed by a right-leaning Republican or a centrist bipartisan majority.
Cathy Tilton, a Wasilla Republican who currently serves as House minority leader, was one of several Republican lawmakers who attended the ceremony on Monday.
“My understanding is the governor’s budget is going to be a good measure that’s going to be good and encompassing for all caucuses and for all people,” said Tilton, who hopes to form a Republican majority but said it was too early to predict the leadership. The governor’s budget proposal is due later this month. “There are items in that budget that we can coalesce around together.”
Sean Parnell, a Republican former governor who currently serves as chancellor of the University of Alaska Anchorage, also commented on the governor’s conciliatory approach after the ceremony concluded.
“I appreciated the governor’s inclusive language about working together, across the lanes, across the interest groups,” Parnell said.
Dunleavy’s positive tone on Monday came after he easily defeated challengers — including independent former Gov. Bill Walker and Democratic former state lawmaker Les Gara — who questioned Dunleavy’s decisions to impose draconian cuts to the university system and other state services in an effort to deliver a large Permanent Fund dividend during his first term in office.
The way by which the dividend is calculated remains undecided and stands to be a major sticking point for lawmakers when they convene for the upcoming legislative in Juneau, set to begin in mid-January.
“As a former governor, I think every governor learns new things along the way and you adapt and change to meet the needs of the people you serve,” Parnell said.
The ceremony also marked the transition from one lieutenant governor to another. Former Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer announced last year that he would not seek another term in office. At the time, Meyer credited the decision to burnout, but his defense of the integrity of the 2020 election had put him increasingly out of step with some Republican voters.
Dahlstrom, the new lieutenant governor, previously served as commissioner of the department of corrections. She did not make any comments during her two-minute speech on Monday about her plans for the lieutenant governor’s office — where she will oversee Alaska’s elections, among other responsibilities.
Meyer was not in attendance at the Monday ceremony. Meyer’s chief of staff, Josh Applebee, said in an email that Meyer was in Juneau wrapping up the recently certified election and closing out his office. Applebee said all sections of the lieutenant governor’s office and the Division of Elections have met with Dahlstrom and “are excited to be a part of her team and help realize her vision for the next four years.”