January 26

By Becky Bohrer

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy laid out an optimistic vision of the state’s future Tuesday during an election year address to lawmakers that comes amid a period of higher oil prices and follows a year marked by drawn-out, bruising legislative sessions.

The Republican, giving his fourth State of the State speech since taking office in late 2018, said he envisioned a state that is a leader in renewable energy, with energy costs among the lowest in the U.S. He also wants Alaska to finally develop its vast stores of natural gas on the North Slope — something policy makers have pursued for decades only to have plans scrapped, stalled or hit dead ends.

He did not go into great detail on how those could be realized. But he told lawmakers there was a “great obligation” to come together around policies that would solve long-standing issues and create opportunities for generations.

Dunleavy has had an at-times rocky tenure, marked by fights with lawmakers over the budget and the annual check paid to residents from the earnings of the state’s oil-wealth permanent fund. He called for settling the dividend issue.

Debate over the size of the check has overshadowed other issues in recent years. Legislative leaders have said they want a long-term resolution to the debate, too, but an agreement so far has been elusive.

Under a redistricting plan that is the subject of litigation, 59 of the Legislature’s 60 members face election this year. Dunleavy faces reelection too.

In his speech, Dunleavy touted his administration’s handling of the pandemic, citing such things as testing and vaccine distribution efforts while also reiterating his position that vaccination is a personal choice. The administration has joined efforts nationally to fight federal vaccine mandates.

Dunleavy said COVID-19 is something people will need to live with.

Dunleavy has faced criticism on both sides — by some who say he hasn’t done or said enough and from others who have accused the administration of pushing vaccines. Republican Rep. Christopher Kurka, who is running for governor, has called for the state’s chief medical officer to be fired, citing in part her support of vaccines. Dunleavy last week said he stood by Dr. Anne Zink, the state’s chief medical officer.

Oil prices in recent months have been at among their highest levels during Dunleavy’s administration. Prices have been in the upper $80-a-barrel range; this time last year, they were around $55 a barrel.