Dunleavy brings reelection bid to Kenai Peninsula

He emerged as the top fundraiser in the race, per new campaign finance data filed this week

A pipeline from the North Slope to Nikiski. High reading scores. Agricultural production on Alaska farmland.

Those are some of the visions Gov. Mike Dunleavy has for the future of Alaska. He and Nancy Dahlstrom — his running mate and candidate for lieutenant governor — brought their 2022 gubernatorial campaign ticket to the Kenai Peninsula this week.

“I think it’s been great so far,” Dunleavy said Friday of his campaign. He emerged as the top fundraiser in the race, per new campaign finance data filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission this week.

Dunleavy became governor in 2018 and previously served as president of the Alaska Senate. He holds a Master of Education from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and has previously worked as a teacher, principal, superintendent and board of education president in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

Dahlstrom served in the Alaska House of Representatives from 2003 to 2010 and most recently served as the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Corrections. She stepped down from that role in late May to join Dunleavy on the ticket.

Energy production

Dunleavy made clear on Friday that he does not view the oil and gas industry and the renewable energy industry as competing interests. Demand for oil and gas will rise alongside a rise in demand for energy generally, Dunleavy said. He favors an “all of the above” approach when it comes to energy generation, whether it be oil, gas, coal, wind, solar, tidal or any other generator.

Dunleavy said he’s optimistic about the future of the Alaska LNG Project, which, if completed, would move gas through an 800-mile pipeline from the North Slope to a liquefaction facility in Nikiski. Project leaders told attendees at a joint chamber of commerce luncheon earlier this month that “every planet possible” is currently aligned to make the project happen.

“We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but we’re feeling pretty good every day that (the Alaska LNG project) may come to fruition, because of all the stuff that’s happening in the world right now,” Dunleavy said.

Navigating gridlock

If reelected, Dunleavy could wind up working with a lot of new lawmakers: 19 out of 20 Alaska State Senate seats and all 40 Alaska State House seats are up for grabs. When it comes to navigating political gridlock, both Dunleavy and Dahlstrom emphasized the importance of finding common ground and working toward a common goal of serving all Alaskans.

“There is a little bit of an art to people learning how to be a legislator,” Dahlstrom said. “People need to learn how to explain their differences and talk about those things without making it a personal attack.”

Election security

If elected, Dahlstrom would head state elections as Alaska’s lieutenant governor. Election integrity and security have become hot-button issues in recent years, and Dahlstrom said there is always room for improvement. The more people understand how Alaska’s elections work — from chain of custody to tabulation — the better they should feel about the process, she said.

Current Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer joined Dunleavy last year in calling for changes to the way elections are conducted in Alaska. A bill the duo announced in December — which ultimately did not pass — would have allowed for ballot curing or correcting, created an “election offense hotline” and required people applying for Alaska Permanent Fund dividend to request voter registration instead of being automatically registered.

The governor said Friday that he hopes widespread interest in state elections can be a force for good.

“We’re hopeful that all of this heightened scrutiny that is being called for by the people of Alaska actually has a positive impact on the outcomes of these elections,” Dunleavy said. “We’re hoping that these elections that occur are done in a free and fair manner and everyone feels at the end of their votes count. We’ll all be keeping an eye on it to make sure.”

Alaska’s 2022 Special Primary Election, called following the death of former U.S. Rep. Don Young, is the first to use a nonpartisan top four primary structure, under which the election’s top four vote-getters all advance to the special general election on Aug. 16, regardless of party affiliation. The special general election in August will be the first in Alaska to use ranked choice voting, under which voters can choose more than one candidate in ranked order.

Constitutional convention

It’s those same Alaska voters that Dunleavy and Dahlstrom said they have faith in when it comes to the question of holding a state constitutional convention.

Alaskans will make the once-in-a-decade decision on the issue during the November general election. Some who support the convention see an opportunity to clarify Alaska’s right to privacy — which could affect abortion access — while others say opening up the constitution to changes would be like opening Pandora’s box.

On June 24, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark 1973 case Roe v. Wade, ending legally protected access to abortion and returning the responsibility to states to make their own policies. The Alaska Supreme Court has previously ruled that the section of the Alaska Constitution that protects privacy rights applies to abortion access.

Dunleavy said he thinks a lot of people “misunderstand” what a constitutional convention would mean for Alaska. If voters choose to move forward with a convention, any changes to the constitution proposed by delegates would be subject to approval by voters. Dunleavy described himself as pro-life, but said that being pro-life comes with obligations.

“We have to understand the situations that women have to go through that may end up having them to decide or debate within themselves and with their families whether they want to terminate a pregnancy,” Dunleavy said. “Roe v. Wade has no impact on Alaska.”

Dahlstrom also described herself as pro-life, but said she believes there are times where exceptions are made, such as in the case of rape and incest or when the health of the mother is at stake.

“I think those are sacred decisions that need to be made with a woman and her doctor,” Dahlstrom said. “I also put a lot of value on the quality of life and I think that once we have those children in our lives and around us, we need — as the governor said — to make sure that they can have a life that’s decent.”

Revenue windfall and education

Dunleavy has frequently said that Alaska experienced a “windfall” in revenue due to a spike in oil prices following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In determining the best way to use that money to benefit Alaska, Dunleavy said he sought to fund the basic operations of government, public safety, education and capital projects.

Included in budgets for the current fiscal year was $6.5 million for the Kenai Bluff Stabilization project and a bump in funding for public schools.

Education emerged as a clear priority for lawmakers last session. Many celebrated the passage of House Bill 114, into which the Alaska Reads Act was included. That bill, years in the making, aims to get all students reading at grade level by the end of third grade and creates an early education and reading intervention programs, among other things.

Looking ahead, Dunleavy said he expects “earnest” discussion about the best way to recruit and retain quality educators. Multiple school districts around Alaska are experiencing staffing shortages, including the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. In some cases, those shortages are exacerbated by a lack of affordable housing.

“These are real issues that need to be worked on,” Dunleavy said.

Ultimately, Dunleavy said the initiatives his administration is already pursuing are working toward his vision for the future of Alaska.

When asked where he wants to see Alaska be in the next five to 10 years, Dunleavy described a new pipeline that will bring lower energy costs statewide, farmland being used to feed Alaskans, reading scores that are among the highest in the nation and cross-Arctic Ocean travel.

“We have all the ingredients to make this happen,” Dunleavy said of his vision for the future of the state. “We’re actually in the process of making this happen. Our fiscals are an order, our crime rates are down, we’ve passed a reading bill, we have funded the ports in Anchorage, Seward and up in Nome, and other places — we’re already looking at the next 50 years.”

Former Gov. Bill Walker, Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce, former state legislator Les Gara, Alaska House Rep. Christopher Kurka, Libertarian candidate William Toien and Republican Bruce Walden are also vying for Alaska’s highest office. The 2022 state election primary will be held on Aug. 16.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.