Dr. Michael Johnson, Commissioner of Education and Early Development, is interviewed by members of the Senate Finance Committee at the Capitol on Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019. Gov. Mike Dunleavy has chosen Dr. Johnson as a Lt. Governor successor if needed. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Dr. Michael Johnson, Commissioner of Education and Early Development, is interviewed by members of the Senate Finance Committee at the Capitol on Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019. Gov. Mike Dunleavy has chosen Dr. Johnson as a Lt. Governor successor if needed. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Senate questions Lt. Gov. Meyer’s back-up

Education commissioner tagged as emergency replacement Lt. Gov.

Dr. Michael Johnson has been tagged to fill a contingency role that would place him as lieutenant governor in case of a catastrophe, such as death or another emergency.

Johnson has been the commissioner of Department of Education and Early Development since 2016, and he will continue in that role. He has previously worked as an elementary school teacher and superintendent in the Copper River School District.

The Senate Finance Committee met Wednesday morning to ask Johnson a series of questions, in order to vet him for his role as the lieutenant governor’s successor.

“When Gov. Dunleavy called and asked, he noted my experience leading a complex organization like a school district and the Department of Education,” Johnson said, when asked about his qualifications. “He’s familiar with my judgment and has known me. He was the senator as part of our school district. … Hopefully my character qualifies me to serve in this contingency role.”

Johnson later added if he did in fact replace Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer, he would enter that office with humility in knowing how he got there.

“I think that humility would lead me to lean upon many other capable Alaskans that can give good council and advice,” Johnson said, “and help me fulfill that oath of office in a way that’s honorable and respects the people of Alaska.”

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, said it was not completely out of the realm of possibility for Johnson to become lieutenant governor, since former Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Valerie Nurr’araaluk Davidson was promoted to lieutenant governor in October. So Wielechowski asked what Johnson’s political philosophy was.

“My general philosophy of government is of the people, by the people, for the people,” Johnson said. “I generally think when there are issues and problems, the first answer shouldn’t be government. But often government can play a role in providing good solutions and support.”

Wielechowski also asked if he supports the governor’s proposed supplemental budget bill, which included a $20 million cut to education. Johnson said, “Yes.” Wielechowski also asked if he was consulted on this bill. He said he had consulted with the Office of Management and Budget, and that discussion included funding possibilities for earthquake relief in Anchorage. Johnson said he did not consult school districts regarding the proposed cut.

At town hall, Juneau residents worry about budget cuts

Sen. Bert Stedman asked if Johnson had any thoughts on the guarding the Alaska State Seal, which the lieutenant governor is tasked with regulating.

“I’ve learned in the last few days the Alaska State Seal is the only seal that actually has a seal, in the state seal,” Johnson said. “I think that’s an interesting fact and want to share that. … The use of the state seal is prohibited unless you get with permission from the lieutenant governor and that’s an important job to protect that seal.”

Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, stated that Johnson is “one heart beat away” from being lieutenant governor, and “two heart beats away” from being governor. Micciche then asked if he was up to the task of handling election discrepancies in the Division of Elections, which Johnson would oversee.

Johnson quoted the Division of Elections mission statement, which says, “To ensure that every eligible Alaskan has a meaningful opportunity to cast a ballot, have their vote count, and conduct impartial, secure and accurate elections.” Johnson said this statement “speaks for itself,” because “every Alaskan matters.”

Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, asked if he were to Google Johnson’s name or look up his social media if he would “find interesting things or are you going to be a rather boring view?” Stedman also asked if Johnson had embellished or misstated anything on his resume. Johnson replied that he was “not aware of anything” to both questions.

“I wouldn’t want the public to take those questions out of context, there doesn’t appear to be any reason other than historical,” Stedman said. He added he had looked into those issues already. So far, three Dunleavy appointees have rescinded their job offers as a result of social media use or inaccuracies on their resume.

Micciche encouraged Johnson twice to update his resume so that it reflected his position as Commissioner of Department of Education.

• Contact staff writer Kevin Baird at 523-2258. Follow him on Twitter at @alaska_kev.

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