Amid holiday fanfare, Dunleavy ready to get to work

Meeting with president, submitting budget on agenda this week

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s first stay in Juneau as governor was a brief but festive one.

He arrived Tuesday morning and was set to depart Wednesday to meet with officials in Washington, D.C., including President Donald Trump. During the course of the day Tuesday, Juneau’s rain briefly turned to snow and the Governor’s Mansion became the epicenter of holiday spirit in the capital city for the annual governor’s open house.

Dozens of cookies lined the dining room table, leading attendees to view gingerbread houses and a model train set by the west windows of the home.

[Photos: Governor’s open house]

Before visitors showed up, Dunleavy gave a brief update on his transition to governor.

He said his team will likely unveil its budget this Friday with changes to former Gov. Bill Walker’s final budget.

“It’s going to have some slight changes from what the governor did, because we need a little more time to actually put our stamp on it and spend some time working through the details of the different parts itself,” Dunleavy said.

Chief among those changes is a full Permanent Fund Dividend and a repayment of PFD funds that would have been paid to residents under the state’s old PFD formula, Dunleavy said. He campaigned heavily on those points, and said he’s going to do everything he can to make his campaign promises a reality. Dunleavy said his administration will then submit an updated budget in January.

When asked specifically what he thought the biggest challenges and priorities for Southeast are, Dunleavy said he believes the same priorities ring true in Southeast as the rest of the state: public safety, a balanced budget, getting people employed and restoring the full PFD. He also said he’ll search for ways to make the Alaska Marine Highway System more sustainable.

“Everything in this administration is going to be about making things sustainable over the long term,” he said.

Among the first people Dunleavy spoke to when he arrived at the open house Tuesday were Juneau Mayor Beth Weldon and City Manager Rorie Watt. Weldon, who is also new in her position after earning her seat in the October municipal election, said having a strong relationship with the governor is important for the city.

“We want him to realize that Juneau’s a very welcoming community,” Weldon said. “We’ve given him our card so he knows how to get in touch with us if there’s a problem or if there’s anything Juneau can do to make him and the Legislature’s stay more comfortable.”

Dunleavy’s wife Rose stood by his side in front of the fireplace, eager to meet their new neighbors. Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer and his wife Marty were stationed beside them.

While some people come to the open house every year, two of the first people through the door were there after a long break. Longtime Juneau resident Janet Coffin said she hasn’t come to the governor’s open house since 1980. Alongside Coffin was Cathy Painter, who said she hasn’t been to the event in more than 20 years.

Getting to meet the new governor was the main reason for attending, they both said.

“It was great to meet him and the first lady,” Painter said, “and see how tall he really was.”

Painter said she made a comment to Dunleavy about his height, and Dunleavy joked that he only seemed tall because of the mat he was standing on near the fireplace.

A little while later, a group of fourth- and fifth-grade students performed for those in attendance. The students are part of Juneau Alaska Music Matters (JAMM), a program that gets children involved in music at an early age. Glacier Valley Elementary School fifth graders and musicians Della Mearig, Alba Muir and Leslie Zamora were all bright-eyed as they walked through the heavily decorated house.

Muir said she was grateful for the opportunity to play. Zamora said she had been to the mansion on a school field trip before, but she was “amazed” as she walked through it this time. Mearig also recalled being in the mansion on a field trip before, but said this time was quite different.

“It’s super exciting that we get to be treated like professionals,” Mearig said. “Even though we’re still in school and still kids, we get to play for the governor.”

• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.