At the top, at least, Alaska’s politics have shifted back to red.
That, along with the resounding defeat of Ballot Measure 1, the salmon habitat initiative, was welcome news to many in the state’s resource industries.
“With the defeat of Ballot Measure 1 and the election of Mike Dunleavy (for governor), Alaska is open for business again and we’re really excited about that,” Alaska Miners Association Executive Director Deantha Crockett said before introducing Dunleavy at the association’s annual convention in Anchorage.
Dunleavy, who was under the weather in the days following the Nov. 6 election, repeatedly emphasized that sentiment in some of his first remarks since winning the state’s highest office.
“Alaska is open for business. I’ll say it again; Alaska is open for business. It’s going to be my goal that when folks think about where they’re going to invest in the future that Alaska’s not a laughing stock, that Alaska’s not off the radar screen but Alaska’s a serious player in resource development in this country and in this world,” Dunleavy proclaimed to the Miners Nov. 8.
He commented that Alaska was purchased for its resources and geopolitical location and he suspects both will come into play in the coming years.
He stressed that processes will be adhered to and negative political influence will be left out of large project permitting as well— issues Pebble mine proponents have frequently raised, particularly after Gov. Bill Walker and his Natural Resources Commissioner Andy Mack declared they are against the project.
“We can take care of the environment but we’re going to seize opportunity here in Alaska,” Dunleavy said.
A group of House Republicans, who at the time believed they held a majority in the house, by the slimmest of margins, stressed some of Alaska’s consistent political battles wouldn’t be happening for at least two years.
“We do not need to have conversations about oil taxes; we do not need to have conversations about other taxes,” said Rep. Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, who was named the presumptive Finance Committee co-chair if Republicans secure a majority. “It’s time to get back to how can we get out of the way and let the private sector grow the economy in Alaska.
Changes one way or another to the state’s oil production tax have been a primary topic of nearly every legislative session since the mid-2000s.
Alaska Support Industry Alliance CEO Rebecca Logan said beyond the big philosophical battles over taxes she would like to see the Dunleavy administration address general regulations and licensing requirements for all businesses, regardless of industry.
As of this writing late Nov. 13 Democrat House District 1 candidate Kathryn Dodge had taken a 10-vote lead over Republican Bart LeBon. Dodge trailed him by 79 votes after Election Night. More absentee ballots would be counted throughout the rest of the week, according to the Division of Elections.
The House Republicans were counting LeBon in their 21-member majority, so if Dodge’s new lead holds, legislators will be scheming ways to poach members of the other caucus.
Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, who was also tapped as a Finance Committee co-chair in waiting, said Republican Rep. Louise Stutes was invited to join the group in Anchorage but decided to remain in Kodiak. Stutes joined with a couple other Republicans to form a bipartisan majority with House Democrats in 2016.
Additionally, Senate President Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, saw his 11-vote lead flip into a 152-vote deficit to Democrat challenger Rep. Scott Kawasaki.
However, while that race would be a blow to Republican leadership in the Senate, they would still retain control of the chamber.
House Republicans have expressed some support for Dunleavy’s principal campaign pledge to restore Permanent Fund dividends to the historic formula calculation and repay dividend amounts forgone the last three years to make what has been estimated could be a $6,700 dividend in 2019 if the Legislature goes along with his plan.
Republican leaders in the Senate, on the other hand, pushed the 5.25 percent of market value, or POMV, draw through the Legislature last year with the support of Gov. Bill Walker.
They have been more judicious in responding to Dunleavy’s proposals regarding the PFD.
Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, said the Senate did not do a good job communicating with Alaskans about the need to use the earnings of the Permanent Fund for government and needs to continue to work on that.
“We didn’t actually secure that social license,” Giessel said. “We are aligned with the governor on the goals of keeping our families healthy, keeping our businesses productive and increasing Alaska’s jobs.”
She also said they are with the next governor in keeping “downward pressure on the (state) budget.”
On other issues, Dunleavy said he plans to audit state agencies in an effort to find efficiencies.
He said Medicaid programs would be reviewed to determine if the state can sustainably support them into the future.