Dunleavy says work with Murkowski endures after Trump nod, and he says he stands by Zink

A man behind a podium with flags on either side.
Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks at a news conference at his downtown office in Anchorage on Wednesday, September 22, 2021. (Nat Herz/Alaska Public Media)

Alaska Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy said he doesn’t see his acceptance of former President Donald Trump’s endorsement as hurting his relationship with the state’s senior U.S. senator, Republican Lisa Murkowski, who voted to convict Trump at his impeachment trial last year and whose reelection bid Trump has vowed to fight.

Trump last month praised Dunleavy as a “strong and consistent conservative” and offered his endorsement, provided that Dunleavy does not endorse Murkowski. Asked if Dunleavy planned to endorse anyone in the Senate race, Andrew Jensen, a campaign spokesperson, said Thursday he could “simply reiterate the governor’s position on this, which is that he appreciates the support of President Trump and all the things he did and tried to do for Alaska, and that he is focused on his own race.”

Both Dunleavy and Murkowski face reelection this year. Trump has endorsed Republican Kelly Tshibaka, a former Department of Administration commissioner under Dunleavy, in the U.S. Senate race.

Dunleavy told The Associated Press on Thursday that he and Trump had a “very good relationship,” which he contrasted with the Biden administration. Dunleavy and members of Alaska’s Republican congressional delegation have been at odds with the current administration over issues such as resource development, and they welcomed the U.S. Supreme Court’s rejection of an administration push to require employees at large businesses to get a COVID-19 vaccine or test regularly.

Dunleavy said he doesn’t see there being a change in dynamic between him and Murkowski.

“Not from my perspective,” he said. Dunleavy said he will continue working with the delegation on issues affecting Alaska’s interests. “I will work with anybody, anywhere, anytime with regards to Alaska.”

Dunleavy, in a wide-ranging interview, also defended the state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink. He and Zink have been among the most visible public faces of the state’s COVID-19 response.

Dunleavy was criticized for not issuing a statewide mask mandate during the pandemic and for not taking as strong a position on vaccinations as some wanted; Dunleavy, who tested positive for COVID-19 last February and was vaccinated later, has said that vaccination is a personal decision.

On the other side, some have accused him of pushing vaccines. Alaska led states early on in making vaccines widely accessible. Dunleavy has also been questioned about his issuance of a series of pandemic-related disaster declarations that ended last February.

[Sign up for Alaska Public Media’s daily newsletter to get our top stories delivered to your inbox.]

A Dunleavy spokesperson in July said the governor’s vaccination “was a private decision, which is what he has always advocated for in dealing with this virus.”

Zink, who regularly appears in public forums to discuss COVID-19 and take questions, is among the state health officials who have encouraged vaccination and measures such as wearing masks and testing. Some, including Republican Rep. Christopher Kurka, who is running for governor, have called for Zink to be fired, citing in part her support of vaccines.

When asked if Zink had done anything that would require her to be fired, Dunleavy said, “No.”

He said the pandemic has become politicized. People also are tired of the coronavirus and want to put it behind them, he said.

“I think there are faces — mine, Dr. Zink’s, other governors’, other health folks’ — that in some respects people are tired of listening to, tired of looking at,” he said. “You’re going to see candidates … come up with all kinds of attempts to leverage votes and get an advantage.”

Asked if he stood by Zink, he said: “I think I just said that.”

The administration plans to propose for the legislative session that began Tuesday changes in law to address things such as repeated violations of protective orders and an expansion of the crimes considered to be domestic violence in a state where such violence is a scourge. The administration has also proposed an election-related bill that touches on issues such as establishing an online system for tracking absentee ballots and identifies state and federal records and data sources that could be used by election officials in reviewing and updating voter lists.

The bill calls for biennial audits of registered voter lists “in consultation with an external, nationally recognized subject-matter expert” selected by the Division of Elections.

Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer, a Republican, announced last month he would not seek reelection and would instead focus on his work overseeing elections, including the use of a new system that includes open primaries and ranked choice voting in general elections. That system, narrowly approved by voters in 2020, was upheld by the Alaska Supreme Court on Wednesday.

“I need to be impartial so I can meet these challenges head-on, without any appearance of bias or conflict. I think that’s extremely important as far as voter trust and confidence in our election process,” Meyer said in announcing his plans.

Dunleavy has not announced a new running mate.

Previous articleFired attorney and blogger wins case against Dunleavy administration
Next articleAlaska News Nightly: Thursday, January 20, 2022