Following his Aug. 19 loss in an acrimonious Republican primary election for the right to take on incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell has gotten back to business in his role as the state's top election official. Recently, he led a series of public hearings around the state addressing three ballot initiatives -- on legalizing marijuana, increasing the minimum wage and limiting large-scale mining in Southwest Alaska.
He's also staying involved in politics, hosting a fundraiser last week for the winner of the Republican primary, Dan Sullivan. In a conversation over breakfast at the Hotel Captain Cook Monday, Treadwell addressed his own political future, gave his take on the Senate race and talked about his recent travels around the state for the public hearings -- which included a serendipitous pizza dinner with Sullivan in Nome.
The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Alaska Dispatch News: You just held 24 hearings across the state on the ballot initiatives, including on marijuana legalization. What did you take away from those?
Treadwell: If you listen to the record of the whole hearings, say on pot, you had surprising support in Northwest and Arctic Alaska -- Nome and Barrow. Even a pastor turned out in Barrow to support legalization, saying it would reduce domestic violence. And then there were a number of Native carvers who came up to me afterward and said, "Well, we didn't want to testify because we didn't want to identify ourselves as users."
The (Barrow) mayor, Bob Harcharek, came out and basically asked -- the city's considering reopening a liquor store as a revenue source, and he's wondering if he could restrict anyone else from selling pot in town and doing that, and I think you can under the law.
Then, surprisingly, in Southwest Alaska, there was not a single (local) person that came to argue for it. I don't know what describes the difference except, (Southwest Alaska Native leader) Mike (Williams) has been a leader of the sobriety movement. The question of, "How do you keep intoxicants out of people and keep people doing what they need to be doing?" seemed to be one of their major arguments. And his argument was that it was going to increase domestic violence. That right now, pot is taking clothes off their kids' backs, it's taking money from paying for fuel, that people get very irritable when they don't have it -- that it is very addictive.
The local control prerogatives are very different than they are for alcohol, because of Ravin. (In the Ravin case, a 1975 Alaska Supreme Court decision affirmed Alaskans' rights to possess small amounts of marijuana at home.) Mike Williams has bound together three villages to say, "We're going to use tribal law to regulate pot." Which will set tribal law up against the Alaska Constitution, which could be a very interesting fight in the same way that we've got it on adoption and some of these other issues.
ADN: So, what's your involvement been in the U.S. Senate race since the primary?
Treadwell: I endorsed Dan (Sullivan). I co-hosted a fundraiser for him Friday night. Sent checks back to people who had contributed money to me that could only be used in the general election and sent them a Sullivan contribution envelope, and I've urged them to contribute to Dan.
I have spoken with him at length, several times, to help him one way or the other, and met with his campaign staff. When he's had a fundraiser some place around the state or around the country, I've tried to put people who support me in touch with him. That's about it -- I haven't cut any ads or anything. We did send a letter to our complete email list urging people to contribute. We've shared with them our regional coordinators, and made introductions for people who wanted to be introduced.
ADN: Did you also travel with Dan Sullivan right after the primary election?
Treadwell: Oh, no, it was funny. We were in Nome for a hearing -- we landed, and my favorite place to have dinner in Nome is Airport Pizza. I walk into Airport Pizza and there's Dan Sullivan holding a meet and greet. We were off the clock by that point, so the two of us had pizza together.
ADN: How was that?
Treadwell: It was good. Obviously, I wasn't happy that he ran; I wasn't happy to lose. But, you know, I spoke to the Republican Central Committee right after the nomination and I said you know, Begich is running all these ads now quoting me (attacking Sullivan) from the Homer debate. I wish I could have gotten quoted when we had the Homer debate. But the point is, I used those arguments, and that dog don't hunt.
I did say this: A friend had sent me an essay after I lost the election, and it said what to do after you lose an election. Number one says, don't feel bad about yourself, which I don't. I went and I took my boys and my daughter and we went out to the wilderness. We caught halibut. We had two great salmon fishing trips and I just finished two days harassing trout on the Kenai.
The second thing is thank those who helped you. Third is thank those who didn't help you. But, you know, tell 'em you love 'em anyway, and I did that. The fourth thing that was kind of the most unique suggestion, I thought, was keep your campaign promises anyway. And I said, "Well, that's what I intend to do." And that's what I've always done as an Alaskan.
When it comes to a balanced budget, the state is just joining a statehood compact on trying to get a balanced budget constitutional amendment. When it comes to bringing land decision-making home, I go to Salt Lake City this week for a meeting of the American Lands Council -- with a group of Alaska legislators saying, "Okay, how do we join this thing?"
I said at the fundraiser Friday night, I doubt we can keep our promise on any of those things unless we elect Dan Sullivan, because Mark Begich has not been helpful putting the Alaska agenda across the Senate floor.
I've got two meetings yet this fall on Arctic issues -- I just hosted a group of investors looking to invest in the state. So the answer is, I'm going to work to keep my campaign promises, either as a citizen or lieutenant governor.
ADN: What's your sense of the enthusiasm among your supporters for Dan Sullivan's campaign?
Treadwell: You guys tried very hard to brand me as a moderate who turned conservative in the primary. And, you know, maybe it's what I said versus what I felt, but I've always been pro-life. What I said on life issues is what I said in (the) 2010 (campaign), and it's what I've said, what I argued before that on things like parental notification.
But, if you look at the polls and people who support us, we have a surprising level of support among both moderates and conservatives. Which is why we went forward with the campaign in the first place. We thought we would be the best bridge between the two. The Democrats could see that, the Sullivan people could see that -- the Sullivan people asked me, "Why didn't you run to the left of us, rather than the right of us?" The answer is, one, I'd be abandoning principles, and two, there's not enough votes.
But I've found that there are some moderate voters who supported me, especially in the Bush, especially in the fishing community, who are probably going to vote for Begich. But I would say the majority of people who voted for me, or supported us at one point or another, in the general election campaign are going to support Dan enthusiastically.
And in fact, the fundraiser I co-hosted Friday was with a group of business and medical leaders who got on our bandwagon before Dan got in the race and stuck with me the entire time. And it was a very enthusiastic crowd for Dan Sullivan.
ADN: Looking back on the campaign that you ran, is there anything you would have done differently?
Treadwell: Probably two things. One was on the fundraising side, one was on the spending side. I didn't feel bad about our message. The fundraising side -- we were raising most of our money in Alaska, and we had a series of Outside fundraisers that just weren't catching on. Part of the reason they didn't catch on is pro-Sullivan forces -- and I'm not going to say Dan, because I've had long conversations with him, and I honestly believe he wasn't aware of what was happening -- managed to go to pretty much any city that we were talking to, and do their best to dry up our support.
One frustration is, Begich and Sullivan were able to raise a lot of money on Wall Street. I was not, because of pay to play rules (that apply to the lieutenant governor). I went to Harvard Business School. I've got lots of friends in the investment banking business, all of whom wanted to help but didn't, couldn't. Some people say well, maybe I should have resigned the lieutenant governership. I considered being elected kind of a trust and I wasn't going to resign to raise money. But there's probably alternative things we could have done to capture more national money.
The second thing is, we were spending during a time where Sullivan wasn't in the race. We were spending on a $10,000, $20,000 a month overhead, where it would have been nice to have that money toward the end for commercials. Basically, that's that. The amount of money we raised and spent in any other race in Alaskan history would be one of the most expensive.
ADN: There have been rumors flying around about you running for mayor of Anchorage. What do you make of those?
Treadwell: I'm flattered. I intend to get my campaign debts covered here first -- at least the ones where I owe other people -- before I decide whether I'm going to do anything else in politics. But the options I'm looking for after Dec. 1 include business opportunities, academic and policy opportunities, and the possibility of getting back into politics. So, we'll see.
ADN: Is it fair to say that's something you're thinking about?
Treadwell: I haven't ruled it out. But this is not one of those cagey, "No, I'm going to tell you this so you come to the announcement six weeks from now." I haven't ruled it out. It's definitely one option that I've been looking at, but it's not the only option.
ADN: It's definitely an easier campaign than a statewide campaign, right?
Treadwell: Well, you have an interesting situation where, first off, you've got Dan Coffey having thrown his lot down with the repeal movement on (the controversial city labor law). It means that there's only one conservative in the race, Amy Demboski, and whether or not she's strong enough to win is a question. Those are the kinds of things in the calculus.
I've known Dan Coffey a long time. I know Amy, and encouraged her to get involved in politics. The other candidates are the usual suspects that have been very active on Assembly issues for some time.
I've certainly looked at it. But let's get through this election; let's get this election paid for.