Governor, please pay more attention to Alaskans

Our governor has been a busy guy on big issues.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy, his attorney general and others in the administration are spending a lot of time and state money defending Alaska against its perceived political enemies, fighting the U.S. government at every turn of the river, protecting Alaskans from the latest federal regulations and standing up for conservative values.

The list includes picking fights with private banks that want to move away from oil and gas lending, egging on fights over library books, supporting the state of Texas in its fight to string razor wire along the border with Mexico, and signing a multi-state brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of delaying Donald Trump’s trial on charges related to the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

In February, Dunleavy decided to take sides in the public opinion battle over support for Israel, calling on Alaska state agencies to stop contracting with companies that participate in a boycott of Israel.

Our governor has been a busy guy on big issues.

Whether appearing on Fox News to mimic Trump, speaking at an energy conference in Houston about the Alaska North Slope gas pipeline fantasy, traveling the country for his favorite causes or accepting more than $55,000 in free hunts and gifts in 2023, Dunleavy is not slouching back in his office.

He is an active governor.

Too bad he doesn’t have the same energy level for issues that really matter back home. Dunleavy isn’t missing in action in Alaska as much as he is inactive on issues that affect real people’s lives in a real way today. While he strives to be a player in national political games, he seems content to sit on the bench back home.

State agency shortcomings at providing services to the public are growing under his administration, while our governor looks for issues that interest him in the presidential campaign and in national Republican governors’ court cases.

Just last week, Anchorage TV station KTUU reported that the state Division of Retirement and Benefits had notified recently retired public school teachers that it would be at least three months before the agency could send them their first pension check.

The agency said it was short of staff to do the work.

Crew shortages at the state ferry system are as long-standing as rain in Southeast.

Elsewhere in state government, staff shortages and other problems created monthslong backlogs for more than a year at the agency that reviews food stamp applications and Medicaid coverage for lower-income Alaskans. Hold tight, people were told, and check out what you can find on the shelves at your local food pantry.

And yet, at the same cost as adding a caseworker to help Alaskans pay their bills and get food in the house, the governor is in the fourth year of a no-bid state contract with a Washington, D.C.-area conservative publicist, now at the rate of $5,000 a month.

The contractor’s job is to create a “national communications plan for Governor Dunleavy,” according to the governor’s communications director in a memo 18 months ago. The plan, the spokesman said, includes getting Dunleavy on Fox News and other conservative outlets, sending out opinion columns under his name, and engaging with social media to “expand our message.”

As of last week, the no-bid contract has been extended or amended eight times.

Once was too much. While Alaskans are waiting for essential services, the governor is spending time and money on non-essential self-promotion. Better he should use his publicist to fill vacant state jobs.

Larry Persily is the publisher of the Wrangell Sentinel.