In a sign of the times, former Alaska gubernatorial candidate Mike Dunleavy took to Facebook “Live” on Thursday to reveal he is once again in the Republican primary race for the office now occupied by Gov. Bill Walker.
His health problems resolved, Dunleavy sat on a white chair in front of a Christmas tree to announce he was re-entering the race with three issues at the top of his list of concerns: public safety, a balanced budget and protection of the Alaska Permanent Fund.
In Alaska, too, Facebook’s reach likely exceeds that of any mainstream media. Rural Alaska, which is largely off the radar for the state’s urban media, is wired together by the high-tech answer to the old “tundra telegraph,” and most of the traditional media is tied to major cities.
The Facebook pitch allowed Dunleavy to sidestep pesky reporters and go straight to supporters in a down home, Matansuka-Susitna Valley style.
Maybe even a little too down home.
The presentation had all the hallmarks of Facebook, where everyone is friends. The production qualities of the video were low and the show started with the 56-year-old candidate tilted on his side. Dunleavy wore a fleece jacket, the modern-day version of the plaid flannel shirts sported by iconic and late Gov. Jay Hammond.
Staff quickly righted the state Senator from Wasilla so he could make a pitch for an end to sexual harassment of women in the work place, a trending issue, and ask for campaign help.
“Go to our website,” Dunleavy said. “Like the Facebook. Let us know how we can help.”
And, of course, send money.
Walker attracted a good turnout of Anchorage’s monied class earlier this week for a fundraiser at the home of former Gov. Bill Sheffield. Anchorage Daily News/ADN columnist Charles Wohlforth, a former Anchorage politician, has described Sheffield as the state’s top political money man.
“Sheffield gives to conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats. Mainly, he supports winners. And when he picks wrong, he sometimes switches,” Wohlforth wrote in 2015. “Sheffield…switched after supporting Gov. Sean Parnell for re-election in 2014. He laughed about the long line at a card table for donors at his fundraiser for Gov. Bill Walker. People came who he normally doesn’t see. ‘They wanted to be on record that they supported him,’ he said.”
Wohlforth said Sheffield’s 2014 Walker fundraiser brought in $80,000. Walker might have done better this time. Among those in attendance Monday at Sheffield’s home were Wohlforth’s former boss, one-time Alaska Dispatch News/ADN owner and publisher, Alice Rogoff.
Newly divorced from David Rubenstein, one of the countries richest men, Rogoff is expected to now be independently wealthy. As the state’s largest newspaper was imploding into bankruptcy in late summer, Rogoff told friends she planned to get out of the journalism business and devote her attention to Walker’s re-election.
Dunleavy said in a post-announcement telephone interview that he expects the 2108 campaign to be costly, but believes Walker can be beat.
“He’s so way off on the issues,” the Republican said.
Walker has proposed an income tax and using funds from the Permanent Fund earnings to close a state fiscal gap caused by falling oil prices compounded by falling oil production. Neither new taxes nor spending Permanent Fund earnings are popular with voters and the latter might become even less popular with Permanent Fund consultants warning earnings could decline with inflation on the horizon.
Fund advisers last week told the Permanent Fund board that a proposed plan to use Permanent Funds earning to “close the state’s Alaska’s multibillion-dollar budget deficit has a 50-50 chance of failing and taking a portion of the fund with it,” James Brooks reported in the Juneau Empire last week.
Dunleavy backs a conservative approach to the use of the Permanent Fund. He said he was getting back into the governor’s race out of a sense of obligation.
He added that his mention of sexual harassment was not a grab for attention on a hot-button political topic, but the view of the father of three daughters. Women now speaking out about workplace abuse deserve public support, he said.
“We’re going to work on the things that have been broken in our great state,” he said on Live. “We want to stay here.”
Like most Alaskans, Dunleavy moved north from elsewhere. He arrived from Pennsylvania in 1983 and became the superintendent of the Northwest Arctic Borough School District in Kotzebue. His wife, Rose, is an Alaska Native from Noorvik, a small village in the Northwest Borough.
Dunleavy entered politics late with a successful 2009 run for the Matanuska-Susitna School Board and then rose fast. He was elected to the state Senate three years later.
He was considered a main contender for the 2018 Republican nomination until suddenly and unexpectedly dropping out of the race in September, citing health reasons.
He said Thursday that he has long dealt with a troublesome atrial fibrillation, something commonly called simply an A-fib.
A-fibs are caused by messed up electrical signals to the heart that tell it to beat irregularly, often rapidly. The bad signals can be the result of all sorts of other problems from a heart attack to stress.
“I had A-fib for decades,” Dunleavy said, but he was always able to control it with medication.
“This July,” he said, “the medicine began to fail.”
By fall, Dunleavy said, the A-fib episodes were becoming so frequent “I had to start canceling fundraisers. I had to start canceling events.”
He sought medical treatment and underwent an ablation, “which works by scarring or destroying tissue in your heart to disrupt faulty electrical signals causing the arrhythmia,” according to the Mayo Clinic.
“Atrial fibrillation ablation may be used if medications or other interventions to control an irregular heart rhythm don’t work. Rarely, it’s the first choice of treatment for atrial fibrillation.”
After the surgery, Dunleavy said, doctors told him it went well, and they expected full recovery.
That didn’t happen. Dunleavy again started having episodes where he felt weak and lightheaded, and went back to the hospital. An MRI showed he had a new problem with his lower heart, the a-Fib having been in his upper heart.
Doctors blamed the new problem on a virus and put Dunleavy on anti-inflammatories. He almost immediately began to get better. That happened in November. He said he now feels great.
“All the issue were taken care of, and we’re 100 percent,” he said, adding that his wife and daughters encouraged him to get back in the governor’s race.
“They’re well suited for this,” Dunleavy said. “Nothing bothers them.”
Dunleavy said he expects Rose and his connections to Northwest Alaska to be major assets in campaigning in rural Alaska.
Walker, a one-time Republican party member, announced back in August that he’d stand for re-election as an independent with Democrat Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott again at his side. An Alaska Native from Southeast Alaska, Mallott was the Democrat pick to run for governor in 2014.
He abandoned the party to team up with Walker on what the duo called a “Unity Ticket.” Once Walker dropped the “R” after his name and changed his voter registration to “undeclared,” Democrats embraced him.
Mallott is the former chairman of Sealaska, the regional Native corporation for Southeast Alaska, former president of the Alaska Federation of Natives, and former president of the First Alaskans Institute.
A multimillionaire, Mallot’s net worth is estimated at $9 million, he is an old friend of Rogoff.
Mallott played a key role in Walker’s topping Parnell. In an election decided by just over 6,000 votes, Parnell carried urban Alaska, but the over-whelming support for the Walker-Mallott ticket in rural Alaska carried the day.