In a TV debate last week, Republican candidate for governor Mike Dunleavy said he'd consider cutting "climatologists" from the state budget.
His comment was the most recent of at least three campaign appearances when Dunleavy cited the position of climatologist as something he would look to for cuts.
A campaign spokesman said the candidate misspoke.
The question from KTUU-TV anchor and moderator Mike Ross during the Thursday evening debate was: "In terms of specifics, name one thing that you would cut from the budget?"
Dunleavy responded with several things he would get rid of or consider getting rid of, including that he "would look at eliminating climatologists."
When pressed after Thursday's debate, Dunleavy spokesman Daniel McDonald said the candidate was referring to a single climate adviser position in the governor's office. Dunleavy misspoke in multiple instances when he used the term climatologist or climatologists, McDonald said.
"At a time when Alaskans are suffering from rampant crime, high unemployment and a prolonged recession, the state shouldn't be prioritizing a 'Senior Climate Change Adviser,'" the campaign said in an emailed statement attributed to Dunleavy. "We simply can't afford it."
Nikoosh Carlo currently holds the position Dunleavy was referring to, through a contract with the governor's office. On the office's website, her title is listed as senior adviser on climate policy and Arctic policy. She is not a climatologist, Gov. Bill Walker's press secretary Austin Baird said in an email.
Carlo makes $12,083 per month — about $145,000 annually — through that contract, Baird said. She doesn't get state benefits. Walker appointed her in September of 2017, according to an Alaska Public Media story.
Alaska also has a state climatologist. Martin Stuefer, director of the Alaska Climate Research Center within the University of Alaska Fairbanks, recently took over that role. Stuefer is the only person in the state with that title, he said. Right now, he said, his salary doesn't come from the state but from agencies including the U.S. Department of Energy and NASA.
Climatologists study environmental data and trends to determine how climate and weather are changing in the long-term. Walker and others have referred to Alaska as "ground zero for climate change."
In recent years, falling oil prices caused a multibillion-dollar deficit in Alaska's budget. Prices have since moved back up.
When it comes to state spending, Dunleavy has said he wants to prioritize public safety, education, management of natural resources, and transportation. He said in another debate last week in Fairbanks that "some of the other things will have to be up for negotiation."
Dunleavy has mentioned the position of climatologist in at least two other debates when it comes to the state budget. In both those instances, McDonald said, Dunleavy misspoke and was also referring to the climate adviser.
"If it's a climatologist, if it's any kind of crazy study, it's not going to happen," Dunleavy said during the Fairbanks debate with Democratic candidate Mark Begich.
Dunleavy also brought up climatologists in a Sept. 19 debate hosted by the Alaska Mortgage Bankers Association in Anchorage.
He cited those four areas that he said are key to prioritize in the state budget — public safety, education, natural resource management and transportation — and then said: "Those are primary functions for government. We can't be all things to all folks. We cant be hiring innovative change agents and climatologists when we're in this environment. We have to get back to basics."