Gov. Mike Dunleavy delivered his fifth State of the State address Monday night, seeking to paint a considerably more moderate and affable governor as he begins his second term. With various attempts at humor that we haven’t seen before, the Republican struck at many of the conservative talking points about crime waves and environmental extermists, but weaved in enough widely popular talking points that the entire chamber applauded the applause lines. more often than not.
“I think there has been a sea change in the governor,” Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, said during the Senate majority response after the speech. “In my opinion, the governor feels more comfortable being governor.”
It turns out that people like you when you do things that people like.
As for concrete proposals in the speech, there were not many. Dunleavy called for higher minimum sentences for drug dealers (noting that fentanyl isn’t like “your grandparents’ marijuana”); continued spending to fight the federal government; food safety; and a proposal to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage for children and mothers from 60 days to 12 months. On the economic growth front, he called for a blitz to sell state benefits to the Bottom 48.
Education didn’t get much mention other than acknowledging the limited passage of the Alaska Reads Act in 2022, which Senate President Stevens called a missed opportunity. Dunleavy’s speech followed a rally on the Capitol steps in favor of increased funding for K-12 education, a priority for the Senate that does not appear to be enthusiastically embraced by either Dunleavy or the Republican House of Representatives.
Perhaps the strangest moment of the night was when Dunleavy proclaimed that he wanted to make Alaska “the most pro-life state in the country.”
“You see, like many of you, I like the people, and more importantly, we need more people in Alaska, not fewer. We need more people in our jobs, we need more people in our schools, we need more people creating wealth, we need more people solving Alaska’s problems and the world’s problems, we need more families achieving the American dream,” he said. “I know this may sound strange to some, but we have to get back to getting it right to have families, to start a family and to have children.”
It wasn’t an overt anti-abortion message calling for the constitutional amendment to rewrite Alaska’s right to privacy, but rather seemed like a test to rebrand the pro-life movement to link it to the more widely popular issues that make places livable. like good schools and job opportunities.
In the Senate Majority Response, Senate Majority Leader Cathy Giessel said she would still hope the governor would push through a constitutional amendment to ban abortion based on his reiteration of the “pro-life” message, but she and other legislators pointed out that it faces an uphill battle that requires 2/3 of each house.
“I personally wouldn’t,” Giessel added.
Why it matters: In general, though, it’s hard to miss the backdrop to it all. The last four years of the governor have not exactly lived up to the definition that this new pro-life movement seems to have. Alsaka’s food stamp program has faced a massive backlog that has left families without access to the help that is there for months, which last week sparked a lawsuit saying it exposed thousands to the risk of starvation. That’s on top of cuts to education, the university system, various social safety net programs and many, many other things lawmakers hoped would make the state more livable.
Perhaps the Governor has turned the page and all the things he has strongly opposed for the last four years are back on the table, but as Senator Bill Wielechowski said during the Majority Response:
“The devil is in the details”.