Lined with green, red and gold streamers, bright Christmas bobbles and the smell of pine, the Governor’s Mansion was ready for the annual open house Tuesday afternoon.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy and first lady Rose Dunleavy stood before a large fireplace in the main hall, greeting a steady stream of visitors filing into the mansion. Visitors shook hands with the governor and his wife as well as Lt. Gov Kevin Meyer and his wife Marti. Some posed for pictures, others headed straight for the nearly 15,000 cookies laid out on the dining room table.
“Every year since 1913, we open up the people’s house to the people of Alaska. It’s the kick off to Christmas,” Dunleavy said in a brief press conference with reporters before the doors were officially opened to the public. “It’s great to be here, we get a little bit of a holiday, and then we get back into the session in January.”
Talk soon turned to state politics, and the subject of the state’s budget was quickly raised with the governor. In response to a question if certain programs that had their funds restored by the Legislature this year would be facing cuts again, Dunleavy said Wednesday the public would find out.
“You’re going to find out (Wednesday) what’s going to happen with the budget. (Wednesday’s) when we roll out the budget,” he said.
Dunleavy spokesperson Jeff Turner said the budget would most likely be released sometime in the afternoon Wednesday.
The governor did answer a question about restoring funds to the Alaska Marine Highway System. In his veto summary over the summer, Dunleavy said the Legislature’s appropriation of $5 million to AMHS was “premature,” until the Department of Public Transportation and Public Facilities and consultant group Northern Economics had finished their review of the AMHS. That report is scheduled to be released some time this month.
“I was just talking to Commissioner (John) MacKinnon; they’re looking at the possibility of getting some help there with $20 million out of (the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee) and so hopefully we’ll hear something soon on that,” Dunleavy said.
In November, a group of Southeast lawmakers sent a letter to the governor and MacKinnon urging the use of $20 million “set aside in an earlier budget” to restore ferry service to coastal communities.
He said he knew the Alaska Marine Highway System was important to Alaskans, particularly the people of coastal Alaska who depended on the ferries.
“This situation is being monitored, it has been monitored, discussed, and we’re looking at coming up with some solutions this year, long-term solutions for the Marine Highway System,” Dunleavy said.
At the beginning of the open house, about a dozen people were lined up outside waiting for their turn to greet the governor. One couple visiting from Anchorage said they were there more to see the mansion itself than to meet the governor.
One older Juneauite, Pamela Ely, said she wanted to meet Dunleavy because she had voted for him.
“I think he’s doing a pretty good job with what he’s got to work with,” Ely said. “People aren’t going to like what he decides; you can’t please the whole state.”
Ely said while she mostly approved of what Dunleavy had done in office, there were some things she was upset about.
“The ferries,” Ely said. “They are our road system to the Southeast people, and when we don’t have that, we are up a creek without a paddle.”
It’s been a contentious year for the governor. The Legislature went into special session over an inability to pass a budget and when they finally did, the governor vetoed $444 million from it. That set off a wave of protests and a recall effort which is now in court.
Asked if he expected anyone to confront him about his budget decisions at the open house, Dunleavy said he wouldn’t be surprised.
“That’s the beauty of Alaska, small state in terms of people, access to the governor,” he said. “Everyday I meet Alaskans. I’m always prepared for Alaskans to ask me questions and give me their opinions. If people wanted to give me their opinion today, and I’ll listen to it, and hopefully we’ll all have a good day.”
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.