Point of View: Dunleavy’s emergence as a MAGA soldier

Gov. Mike Dunleavy appears to be sharpening his MAGA credentials to land a seat in Trump’s cabinet should the former president be reelected. Recently he has flexed his considerable constitutional powers to create political chaos and counter issues supported by most Alaskans.

A prime example is Dunleavy’s petition to the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the Biden administration’s quashing of the highly controversial proposal to build a massive mine in the spawning grounds of one of the world’s most important salmon resources.

Interestingly the lawsuit filed by Attorney General Tregg Taylor, with assistance from a $600-per-hour contract attorney, included the following claim: “In 2010, one EPA estimate the value of the Pebble deposit was $700 billion or $700 million per year for 100 years.” What a math error, as $700 million x 100 = $70 billion. You’d think a $600/hour attorney should be able to do a simple math problem. (Thanks to reporting by Dermot Cole, Reporting from Alaska.)

Polls show most Alaskans oppose the mine. The Supreme Court earlier rejected a similar petition by Dunleavy.

Then, of course, there’s his veto of an education funding bill that passed by a remarkable 56-3 vote in a deeply divided Legislature. School districts across the state are considering closing schools, increasing student to teacher ratios, and making other serious funding cuts due to inadequate state funding, and the issue has become the top issue before the Legislature.

The governor was hobnobbing in Washington, D.C., and other venues while the Legislature struggled with his veto threat with no input from the administration. After returning to Juneau and vetoing the bill, he reiterated a demand for a bill containing two of his priorities, both of which are strongly opposed by most educators and politicians. He also downplayed the importance of the issue, saying he wanted to move on to discuss energy. An attempt to override the veto by the Legislature failed by one vote.

The introduction of 12 executive orders showed the governor attempting to increase his already considerable powers and startling most legislators. His move to eliminate citizen advisory boards for the country’s largest state park, the bald eagle preserves near Haines and Marine Highway system were particularly upsetting to many observers.

One executive order would have transferred the authority to approve the introduction of non-indigenous wildlife from the Alaska Board of Game to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game was an attempt to win support for Dunleavy’s proposal to import deer into the Mat-Su.

Fortunately, the Legislature found the courage to kill the four orders discussed above, plus others regulating midwives and other professions.

One last mention: Dunleavy introduced a bill to criminalize unauthorized protests that block highways. This has been a recent flag by red states, but in Alaska it is a solution in search of a problem, also an apparent breach of the First Amendment.

Dunleavy’s first couple years as governor were disastrous as he made dramatic cuts to the state budget and sparked a citizen campaign to remove him from office. While the initiative later fizzled out, Dunleavy was able to make crippling cuts to the University of Alaska and the Marine Highway system.

During later years Dunleavy tried to improve his image by working more closely with the Legislature and kept his MAGA beliefs under control. He wisely let his chief medical officer lead the way during the pandemic and left mask mandates, vaccine requirements, and other issues to individual local governments. But the governor is now acting like a soldier in Trump’s MAGA army.

The governor has joined most MAGA lawsuits against the Biden administration even if they have no impact upon Alaskans. When the red states sued to stop distribution of the abortion pill Dunleavy quickly joined although abortion is legal in Alaska and a clear majority of residents support a woman’s right to choose.

Dunleavy arguably is the most powerful governor in the U.S. because of his line-item veto authority, backed by a two-thirds veto override requirement. For budget items, the legislature must have 45 votes (75%) to override. He also appoints all board members to two powerful financial entities (Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. and the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority), and the Alaska Department of Education and Early Childhood Development and the University of Alaska.

So, why is he trying to bully his way to even more power? The answer seems to be his desire to join his political hero’s quest to make MAGA the law of the land. Dunleavy was careful to disguise his MAGA ideals as governor as most Alaskans appear to be wary of being swept into the madness running rampant is many red states.

So, what post might he be seeking? How about the education secretary? He has plenty of experience in that arena where he created chaos much like the trademark of the Trump administration. Department of the Interior might give him the opportunity to build more roads to help multi-international corporations create huge mines throughout the wilderness in Alaska.

Rodger Painter can trace his Alaska roots to a marriage between an Alutiiq woman and a Russian trader in 1896. He is a former journalist, legislative aide and played a major role in the Alaska seafood industry politics for decades. He is retired and lives in Douglas.