Alaska’s governor-elect makes key appointments

Gov.-elect Mike Dunleavy’s cabinet is taking shape with several key positions announced Monday to lead state agencies. And only one has worked for a state government.

The governor-elect recently tapped Jeremy Price to be his deputy chief of staff. Price grew up in Alaska, and from 2014 until recently he worked for a conservative group advocating less industry regulation.

“We support lower taxes, limited government, and accountability for our elected officials,” he said during a June interview as head of the Alaska chapter of Americans for Prosperity.

Founded in 2004, it’s a libertarian, conservative activist organization largely bankrolled by the billionaire Koch brothers. He’s also worked as Congressman Don Young’s legislative director and as an aide to Sen. Lisa Murkowski. He then worked for the American Petroleum Institute, the trade association for the oil and gas industry.

Price isn’t the only oil-and-gas industry veteran tapped for a cabinet position.

Jason Brune will be the commissioner for the Department of Environmental Conservation; he replaces Larry Hartig, who served in both the Parnell and Walker administrations.

Brune most recently worked as land and resources senior director for Cook Inlet Region, Inc., an Alaska Native corporation that’s Southcentral Alaska’s largest private landowner. He also worked for the Resources Development Council and for the mining giant Anglo American.

“He is tenacious, he is detail-orientated,” said Kara Moriarty, president and CEO of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association. She said Brune’s undergraduate degree in biology and graduate work in environmental science allows him to get into the weeds when talking policy.

“He is very committed and loyal to whoever he works for, and so I think he’ll do an amazing job representing the state’s interests,” she said Monday.

Brune has also served on several boards including the Cook Inlet Beluga Whale Recovery Team and Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Public Advisory Committee.

That makes him known among environmentalists.

“I’ve known Jason for a long time, I knew him when he was with the Resource Development Council,” said Bob Shavelson of environmental group Cook Inletkeeper. “He’s someone you can certainly talk to. He’s open-minded. He also has a very strong pro-development slant, so that’s what we would expect from the Dunleavy administration.”

Shavelson said he’s skeptical that the incoming governor will be able to address the state’s fiscal problems through expanded resource development.

“But I think we will see a much stronger emphasis on opening up large oil, gas and mining projects,” he said by phone in Homer.

The incoming commissioner for the Department of Health and Social Services is Adam Crum, a conservative Republican from Wasilla. The governor’s team touts Crum’s private sector experience: he’s executive vice president of Northern Industrial Training. The Palmer-based firm offers welding classes and other vocational development courses.

Crum has a master’s degree in public health from Johns Hopkins University.

Two years ago he made a failed primary challenge against Sen. Shelley Hughes, a Wasilla Republican.

“We spent considerable time with him,” recalled Pat Martin of Alaska Right to Life. “We of course asked him a lot of questions about his positions, about protecting life, and he was one of the candidates that we endorsed back in 2016.”

The group says it wants to protect all life from the moment of conception: that means an end to abortion in Alaska.

“And so if Adam’s role in the Department of Health and Social Services is such that he can make an impact on that, then we’re all for it,” Martin said.

The right to abortion is protected by the U.S. and Alaska constitutions.

“It’s not just about the right, it’s about ensuring access,” said Treasure Mackley at Planned Parenthood’s regional office in Seattle. “It’s ensuring that you have the ability to access a provider. You have the ability to access the birth control that you need. It’s about the ability you have to access a doctor.”

Health and Social Services controls access — especially for rural and low-income women.

She said Dunleavy’s decision to elevate Crum from a conservative political hopeful to head of the state’s largest social services agency is “deeply concerning for us.”

Other Dunleavy administration appointments include Jonathan Quick as commissioner for the Department of Administration. He comes from the Kenai Peninsula Borough where he oversaw hundreds of public workers. As the state’s Administration commissioner, he’ll oversee thousands.

Dunleavy’s budget director will be Donna Arduin, a state budget specialist and former private-sector financial analyst. Of this latest batch of picks, she’s the only one with state-level experience. She’s worked for Florida politicians Marco Rubio, Rick Scott and Jeb Bush. And for California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as he tried to weather that state’s fiscal crisis.

Jacob Resneck is CoastAlaska's regional news director in Juneau.

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