OPINION: Dunleavy rewarded for faith in Alaskans

  • Gov. Mike Dunleavy at a press conference in Anchorage on May 8. (Photo/Austin McDaniel/Office of the Governor)

Across the country from Huntington Beach to the Jersey Shore, protests against lockdowns, civil disobedience and court cases striking down governors’ orders are spreading.

Here in Alaska all has been relatively calm other than a single drive-through rally in Anchorage on April 22 targeting Mayor Ethan Berkowitz.

Now, as the state stands ready for nearly a full reopening on the eve of Memorial Day weekend, Gov. Mike Dunleavy deserves tremendous praise for his leadership style throughout this 100-year pandemic event that has and will continue to wreak long-lasting damage on the state economy.

While there has been much fawning (often deservedly) over Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink’s performance, there has been relatively little credit paid to Dunleavy’s steady and optimistic tone since the very beginning.

Dunleavy incessantly repeated his trust in Alaskans to do what was being asked of them from social distancing to accepting the need to shutter most businesses temporarily as health care capacity and testing were ramped up.

He emphatically and consistently resisted every question or call to use tools such as state inspectors or State Troopers to patrol businesses or the highways to enforce his mandates.

Unlike many governors and health officials around the country, he also refused to move the goalposts of what the closures were intended to achieve: lowering the rate of cases and having health care capacity in place to handle any increase.

Dunleavy’s faith in Alaskans turned out to be well-founded. The state leads the nation in any metric you can choose from deaths (even inflated as they are by out-of-state numbers and questionable accounting) to cases to hospitalizations to testing per capita.

On May 18, more than three weeks after Dunleavy first gave the go-ahead for limited openings on April 24, there were more than 630 tests reported with zero positive results and only a few dozen active cases.

In the state’s largest city of nearly 300,000 people, where Berkowitz has acted reluctantly in following Dunleavy’s lead, there were just 22 active cases as of May 19 and barely more than couple hundred cases in total.

Those of us who live in Anchorage, whether average citizens or small business owners, owe a great deal of thanks to Dunleavy for getting the state moving far ahead of Berkowitz’s “hunker down” order that he gave every indication of keeping in place until at least May 5.

Although Berkowitz repeatedly claimed his orders would be driven by data and not dates, his reopening plan released April 20 had crippling and arbitrary timelines of 14 and 42 days for the first two phases that crushed the hopes of owners who’d been following the shrinking case numbers closely and waiting for any indication from the mayor there was a light at the end of this tunnel that wasn’t an oncoming train.

Instead, it has been Dunleavy and his administration that are using data and not dates to open as much as possible as quickly as possible always guided by the principle that we are a free state in a free country ruled above all by personal responsibility.

Dunleavy understands that governments derive their power from the consent of the people, and by treating Alaskans with respect and confidence he received the buy-in that other leaders in places like Michigan, New York, California and New Jersey have squandered through excessive restrictions, outright contempt for citizens and the use of police power to enforce their orders.

Describing Dunleavy’s less than two years in office as tumultuous is an all-time understatement. Apart from self-inflicted wounds, he has also had to face earthquakes, devastating wildfires and now a pandemic that has driven down oil prices and production, crushed fishing markets and all but eliminated the 2020 tourism season. Tens of thousands are still on unemployment and monumental budget challenges loom that will continue to test his leadership.

Leaders accept blame and share credit, so don’t expect Dunleavy to start patting himself on the back.

But as we enjoy a three-day weekend that honors those who have given all for this nation among our family and friends whether in the backyard, in the beautiful Alaska outdoors or at our favorite local watering hole, don’t forget how we got to a point that is the envy of most states.

We have a governor who didn’t just say we were in this together.

He believed it.

Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected].

Updated: 
05/19/2020 - 2:57pm