Early in his first State of the State address, Gov. Mike Dunleavy took perhaps his most aggressive stance yet in his desire to improve public safety across the state.
“We’re going to declare war on criminals,” Dunleavy said, listing it as his top promise to Alaskans.
A loud “woo-hoo” rose from the back right of the gallery of the House chamber at the Alaska State Capitol.
Dunleavy spent a sizeable chunk of his speech talking about the state’s budget, saying he wants to stop spending so freely and to create a budget that the average person can understand. He talked about striving for a “real, honest budget,” and said the state has spent too freely for too long.
“The days when anything and everything is just too important not to fund, and where politicians spend their time looking for ways for you to pay for it? Those days have got to be over,” Dunleavy said. “We can no longer spend what we don’t have.”
Dunleavy said he was also planning on unveiling a trio of constitutional amendments next week with the goal of building a foundation for his fiscal plan.
The first, he said, is a spending limit and savings plan to limit how much money the Legislature can spend. The second is to ensure that the Permanent Fund Dividend can’t be changed without a vote from the people. The third is to make sure that taxes can’t change without a vote from the people.
Immediately after Dunleavy’s speech, multiple House Democrats provided statements through a press release expressing their doubts about Dunleavy’s desire to slash government services. House Speaker Pro Tempore Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome, said he was skeptical.
“The vision for Alaska that Governor Dunleavy outlined tonight prompts a lot of questions about the impacts to all Alaskans,” Foster said. “Huge cuts to essential services, on top of the extensive cuts already made in recent years, are concerning. I need more information to judge these proposals and look forward to hearing from administration officials in the coming days.”
About 16 minutes into his 23-minute speech, Dunleavy returned to his main point of public safety.
He cited statistics that Anchorage’s sexual assault rate is almost five times higher than New York City’s — 132 sexual assaults per 100,000 people in Anchorage versus 28 sexual assaults per 100,000 in New York City. Protecting girls and women against violence, he said, was going to be a major priority.
He introduced Scotty and Aaliyah Barr from Kotzebue, the father and sister, respectively, of Ashley Johnson-Barr. Johnson-Barr disappeared in early September and was found dead eight days later. Scotty and Aaliyah received a standing ovation from the gathered representatives and senators in attendance.
In a press conference after the speech, Scotty said he hopes to work with the governor and Legislature to figure out ways for the state to protect girls and women from violence.
“Bear with us,” Scotty said. “We’re a big state, but that means we can all come together as one and work as one to make everybody’s life easier and safe.”
Dunleavy made multiple statements directly to those who might commit crimes in the state, not holding back in his fervor.
“If you are a criminal, this is going to be a very dangerous place for you, starting now,” Dunleavy said. “I strongly suggest you get out while you can. No more coddling, no more excuses. Your days are over.”
Dunleavy stated that the state would still try to provide drug treatment for those who have suffered with addiction.
Dunleavy said he plans to introduce “a series of bills and initiatives” Wednesday that relate to public safety. One of the goals of these initiatives, he said, is to make changes to Senate Bill 91. SB 91 was passed in 2016, and put in place alternatives to long prison terms to reduce the number of incarcerated people in the state. Dunleavy has repeatedly expressed the desire to fully repeal SB 91, and did so again Tuesday.
In many respects, Dunleavy’s speech stood in stark contrast to former Gov. Bill Walker’s address a year ago. While Walker talked frequently about climate change and its effects on Alaska, the word “climate” did not appear once in Dunleavy’s speech. While Walker extolled the importance of resource development, Dunleavy went the other way, saying that “Alaska doesn’t have to be just a resource state.”
Dunleavy’s speech was also half the length of Walker’s, which lasted 49 minutes in 2018.
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.