Former Sen. Mike Dunleavy is campaigning for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, in hopes of challenging Gov. Bill Walker this November.
The Wasilla Republican was in Ketchikan this week as part of that campaign.
He stopped by KRBD to talk with Leila Kheiry about his goals if elected to the state’s highest office.
Here is a summary of their discussion.
Dunleavy arrived in Alaska in 1983, a recent college graduate from Pennsylvania.
“First place I landed was Ketchikan,” he said. “Came up on the (ferry) Columbia from down in Seattle.”
From here, Dunleavy said he headed over to Prince of Wales Island to work at the Gildersleeve Logging Camp’s shop. That lasted a few months before Dunleavy headed north to teach. He worked in a village near Nome, then in Kotzebue, and finally landed in Wasilla.
Dunleavy’s first foray into politics was the Mat-Su Borough School Board. In 2011, he decided to run for state Senate.
“And was in the Senate from 2012 until this past Jan 15th,” he said. “Decided to resign so I could dedicate all my time and focus on the gubernatorial race.”
Dunleavy said people get into education because they want to help others, and that’s what drew him to politics, as well.
“Really, it’s public service from my perspective. The same goes for being a governor,” he said. “When I came to the State of Alaska in 1983, this place was incredibly optimistic. There were all kinds of jobs and opportunities. I always tell people, even today, I’d have to live eight lifetimes to do all the things I want to do in Alaska. It’s such a big, diverse, exciting state. The last several years have been tough on Alaska.”
Dunleavy said the upcoming governor’s election gives Alaskans an opportunity to try something new. He questions whether Gov. Walker has had a positive influence on the state’s economy.
“Our unemployment rate is the highest in the country at 7.3 percent and growing. We’re in recession – one of only two states – and the word is West Virginia is pulling out of that,” he said.
His solution is to control spending, and encourage revenue by supporting industry. In Alaska, that often means resource development and extraction. That means working with the federal government on more oil production, timber opportunities, mine development, etc.
“The natural resources is what sets Alaska apart, and the basis for revenue based on those natural resources is what sets Alaska apart,” he said. “You can tax people in California, you can tax people in Texas because you have a large tax base to do that. We have only 730,000 people.”
Spending solutions would include finding ways to be efficient, Dunleavy said. That could include consolidating health insurance for school districts throughout the state.
“There was a study done a couple years ago by the Legislature that if we were to consolidate those 54 school districts’ insurance policies into one pool, we could save upwards of $100 million,” he said.
And then, he said, the state could cut the equivalent of that cost savings from what it provides to public education.
“We could also look at our health and social service programs,” he said. “Do we have programs that are redundant? Is there duplication? Is there fraud?”
After implementing as many ways as possible to make the budget efficient, Dunleavy said state lawmakers then should reach out to the citizens about the best way to balance the budget, whether it’s a tax or taking part of Alaska Permanent Fund earnings that otherwise would go to dividends.
In the meantime, Dunleavy said the Legislature could fund government this year without taxes or taking from Perm Fund Dividends. The current budget deficit is about $2 billion. Dunleavy said $1.7 billion could be taken from Perm Fund earnings without reducing dividends.
“Which leaves you with a $300 million gap. You have $2.6 billion left in the Constitutional Budget Reserve,” he said. “You could take $300 million, even if you didn’t want to reduce, even if you didn’t want to cut.”
And that, he said, would balance this year’s budget and give some time to find those efficiencies he mentioned earlier. And Dunleavy said that needs to start with a lower budget from the governor’s office, “then have the conversation (about) whether you need to build that budget up.”
While he supported cuts to the ferry system during previous legislative sessions, Dunleavy said he recognizes the importance of the Alaska Marine Highway System to Southeast residents.
“One of the reasons we’re down here in Ketchikan is to actually talk to people about the ferry system: people that actually use it, businesses that use it, folks that work on it. And get the feedback from them to see if there are ways to make it more efficient without the reductions in schedules and service,” he said. “I don’t envision at any time that there would not be a functional and robust ferry service in Southeast, the panhandle of Alaska.”
Dunleavy also has advocated cutting all state funding for public broadcasting in Alaska. He said that’s another area where he’d like input from Alaskans.
“That doesn’t mean that public radio, public TV is not a good thing. We all listen to and all watch public radio and public TV,” he said. “But some would say that with additional television stations and radio stations, it may not be as vital as it once was to the health and safety of Alaskans.”
As a public broadcaster, KRBD is among the stations in Alaska that receives state funding.
Alaska’s primary election is August 21.
Other candidates running for governor in the Republican primary are Scott Hawkins of Anchorage, Mike Chenault of Nikiski, Gerald Heikes of Palmer, Merica Hlatcu of Anchorage, and Michael Sheldon of Petersburg. Billy Toien of Anchorage is running in the primary as a Libertarian. There are no Democratic candidates for governor at this time, according to the Alaska Division of Elections website.
Incumbent Gov. Bill Walker is unaffiliated.
This report has been edited to include candidates not listed on the Division of Elections website.