Mike Navarre, head of the state department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, has temporarily left his job in order to campaign for incumbent Gov. Bill Walker.
In an email to department employees last week, Navarre wrote, “I intend to focus a significant amount of my personal time and energy in the coming weeks on the upcoming election. As such, I have decided to take a leave of absence until early November so I can focus on advocating for the candidates and issues that are of great concern to me.”
“I think it’s fairly unusual for commissioners to do this,” Navarre said by phone on Thursday morning, but he felt it was important to do.
“It’s one of those things where I really wanted to help the governor with the campaign, and it’s one of those decisions where I can do it in my spare time, but I want to do more,” he said.
State law prohibits government employees from spending state time or resources on partisan political campaigns.
Navarre’s leave of absence started Wednesday and is effective through Election Day, Nov. 5.
In the meantime, deputy commissioner Fred Parady will be the department’s lead official, the letter states.
In a public notice dated Wednesday, Navarre named interim replacements to the many boards and commissions that count the commissioner among their members.
“It meant my calendar just blew up,” Parady said by phone.
While he might now be busy, “in terms of the department, it’s steady as she goes,” Parady said.
This is the third time in four years that Parady has served as interim commissioner. “I’m familiar with it,” he said.
Navarre was appointed commissioner last fall when then-commissioner Chris Hladick was named director of the federal Environmental Protection Agency office for the northwestern United States and Alaska. Navarre had been mayor of the Kenai Peninsula Borough for six years and had supported Walker’s fiscal efforts during that time.
By phone, he said the economic development efforts of the Department of Commerce require a good fiscal plan, and getting that plan requires some campaigning.
His deputies and division heads are prepared and ready to take over, he said.
Campaign finance reports show Navarre is a firm supporter of Walker.
Navarre contributed the legal maximum to the campaigns of Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott this year and last, and he has contributed more than $1,200 to the Tongass Democrats, plus thousands more to candidates for public office.
Navarre has generally supported progressive candidates, but he also contributed this year to the re-election efforts of Rep. Jennifer Johnston, R-Anchorage and Sen. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage.
Last year, he donated to the senatorial campaign of Kevin Meyer, now the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor.
• Contact reporter James Brooks at firstname.lastname@example.org or 523-2258.