KENAI – The ever-thinner chief executive of the state of Alaska is not sick, his chief spokesman said today, he’s simply exercising an interest in health and fitness.
“Standing Tall for Alaska” Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s 30-pound or greater weight loss is wholly intentional, said spokesman Matt Shuckerow.
“He’s watching what he eats,” Shuckerow said. “He’s working out. He’s getting healthy.”
Dunleavy’s health has been a source of speculation for many in the 49th state for at least a month given the baggy clothes hanging from his 6-foot, 7-inch frame emphasizing his weight loss.
The physical change has not made the news because the governor’s office has not put out a media release explaining Dunleavy’s success with the ketogenic diet or “Keto” as a lot of people refer to it for short.
This is the way the news works these days. Shuckerow said a couple of reporters did ask about the 58-year-old governor’s weight and were simply informed that Dunleavy is healthy. That apparently prevented them from reporting what is obvious to anyone with eyes.
“I”ve had two reporters ask (about this),” Shuckerow said. “I have pushed back on them…
“(The governor) has not desired to make an issue bout his health.”
A friend of the governor’s said here on Wednesday that he thought Dunleavy needed to get a new wardrobe so it doesn’t look like he’s wasting away in his old suits. Dunleavy was in the Kenai Peninsula city to attend the Kenai River Classic, a fishing event that is a fundraiser for the Kenai River Sportfishing Association.
Aside from looking marathon-runner thin, Dunleavy appeared fit, healthy and full of energy. Aides said he’s lost at least 30 pounds and would like to lose a little more but that his staff thinks trying to get his weight near 200 pounds is too much given his height.
National “healthy weight” tables say the normal weight of a 6-foot, 7-inch man should be 198 to 242 pounds, but in a country where the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases reports “more than two in three adults (are) considered to be overweight or have obesity,” Americans are conditioned to look at those on the lean side of normal as frighteningly skinny.
And there have been reasons to believe Dunleavy – who underwent a procedure to fix a misfiring heart prior to the election and who recently had a skin cancer removed – might be suffering health issues if for no other than the stress of his job.
Exhausting budget battle
The governor has been under heavy political fire for budget cuts and is facing a recall effort by a group that, according to its website, believes Dunleavy’s “sudden, severe, and sometimes illegal budget cuts have caused tremendous harm to Alaska and Alaskans.”
The latter – illegal budget cuts – would appear central to getting the initiative on the ballot. Lawyers seem in agreement the electorate needs a bigger reason than “we don’t like the guy” to recall a governor.
The state budget is a difficult issue. Even after Dunleavy’s vetos, it is running a deficit of about $700 million.
The recall group believes that “with careful planning” Alaska can afford everything Dunleavy cut and still cover the deficit. It has not spelled out exactly how.
Dunleavy supporters say opponents have been deluded by decades of living on the fat of oil revenues that fueled state budget growth to number two in the nation in per capita state and local spending, according to the U.S. government spending website.
Only the District of Columbia at $27,082 per person tops Alaska’s $20,337, but it’s complicated. Supporters of the state’s high spending cite the elevated cost of living in the nation’s northernmost possession and the extreme poverty in rural Alaska, a part of the state with which Dunleavy is well familiar.
Rural Alaska – home to about a third of the state’s population – presents unique problems in that there is generally no economy there, and thus no local property taxes to help support village schools and other infrastructure projects, and no employers – other than government which provides the bulk of jobs – to pick up health insurance costs.
Nearly 60 percent of the people in rural Alaska are on Medicaid for which the state and national government pick up the tab, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation; the national average is just under 20 percent.
Dunleavy won election by promising to balance the state budget and give Alaska voters a $3,000 permanent fund dividend (PFD) to make up for former Gov. Bill Walker’s veto of half the dividend in 2018.
Budget woes forced Dunleavy to compromise with the Legislature on a $1,600 PFD, and he has admitted that balancing the budget is proving far more difficult than he thought. It doesn’t appear that it is going to get easier.
The state budget is still largely funded by oil taxes, and crude oil prices are about $10 per barrel less than they were in 2018 with the U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasting they are likely to stay that way through 2020.
Dunleavy might have been well advised to get in shape for what’s ahead.