JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Republican Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy outlined plans aimed at improving public safety in rural Alaska during a speech Thursday to a major gathering of Alaska Natives that was interrupted by protests.
The speech during a televised meeting of the Alaska Federation of Natives in Fairbanks touched on plans to address a backlog of sexual assault kits, hire 35 Alaska State Troopers with a focus on serving rural communities, and work with tribes on education issues.
It came during a politically turbulent year for Dunleavy, marked by drawn-out legislative sessions with fights over spending cuts and the size of the check residents should receive from the earnings of Alaska’s oil-wealth fund. Less than a year after taking office, Dunleavy faces a recall effort.
His speech was interrupted by protesting voices, prompting Will Mayo, co-chair of the Alaska Federation of Natives board, to urge those gathered to be respectful.
“I respect your right to protest in this way. But I want to ask you, with respect, to please express your views at the voting booth, express your beliefs in a constructive way and don’t come into our house and disrespect our guest,” Mayo said to applause.
Dunleavy then resumed his speech.
The conference theme is “Good Government, Alaskan Driven.” The agenda explained that good government refers to how well the state is meeting the needs of Alaskans and said the Dunleavy administration “tested the bounds of this principle in 2019,” with his budget proposal and vetoes.
Divided lawmakers couldn’t muster support to overturn Dunleavy’s initial vetoes, but they passed another spending package for him to consider, which required a lower threshold of votes.
Dunleavy moderated his position on University of Alaska system cuts and accepted restored funding for areas including certain early childhood learning and senior citizen programs.
He cut money for Medicaid, public broadcasting and other areas.
Dunleavy has credited his vetoes with forcing Alaskans to talk about what they value. He has said he listened to comments he received.
In July, Dunleavy announced he was replacing Tuckerman Babcock, a former Republican party chair, as his chief of staff with Ben Stevens, a former state legislator and a son of the late U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens.
The administration last month said Donna Arduin would be replaced as Dunleavy’s budget office director, but said it was working on terms to have her work on contract as an adviser.
Babcock and Arduin were lightning rods for criticism.
In his speech Thursday, Dunleavy said he takes responsibility for his part in this year’s contentious budget process and would work to ensure it is smoother in the coming year. He said he will make every effort to incorporate the perspective of all Alaskans.
In a statement, Dunleavy spokesman Jeff Turner said there was limited time for Dunleavy to write his budget after taking office last December and for discussions to occur with lawmakers and feedback to be gathered from the public.
Dunleavy faces a mid-December deadline for his next budget proposal, which Turner said has allowed additional time to gather input “on ways to maintain core state services and programs while determining a path that leads to fiscal stability.”