Alaska’s governor and the mayor of the state’s largest city have continued to support a controversial conservative ally, despite her history of racist, homophobic and transphobic comments.
The inflammatory remarks from Anchorage’s deputy library director, Judy Eledge, were most recently documented in a story by the Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica that included audio secretly recorded by one of Eledge’s subordinates. In the recordings, Eledge calls Alaska Native people “woke” and “racists” and transgender people “very troubled.”
And when library employees complained about Eledge to city and state agencies tasked with investigating discrimination, the complaints were either ignored or became mired in a backlog caused by understaffing at the agencies.
Anchorage Daily News reporter Kyle Hopkins wrote the recent story about Eledge, a former teacher, head of the Anchorage Republican Women’s Club and a major player in Alaska’s conservative political scene.
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The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Kyle Hopkins: Yeah, if you rewind back to 2021, there’s the city elections, there’s this group of conservative candidates who are looking to win election as a group, to the (Anchorage) School Board. And immediately there’s opposition research on both sides, and people are looking for dirt on their opponents. Screenshots of Judy’s Facebook posts were being shared, there were stories being written about them. And for example, there was the one where she said, you know, I don’t want to try and quote it, but it had to do with, you know, people of color having low self-esteem.
Casey Grove: She was not elected to the School Board, and then got appointed as the kind of second-in-command at the library. But because the library director was never confirmed, she was basically in charge of the library. And then, I mean, she hadn’t even really been on the job that long before there were accusations of other sort of racist, maybe homophobic, things that she had said in the workplace, that employees at the library started raising red flags about and going to different offices to try to report that. What happened with that?
KH: What I heard from library employees was that, you know, she was not shy about sharing her beliefs, right? And so employees would say, if not their first encounter with Eledge, it would be within the first day of kind of meeting her that she would kind of lay out her, you know, her views, which involved that she was there to kind of stamp out woke culture, that the library was too woke, that there were too many women choosing the books, that she did not believe in this idea of equity, that she had problems with plans — she’d found that there were plans to kind of redo the Alaska Room and kind of recenter the Alaska Room on more of like an Indigenous historical account, rather than like a white-centered colonial account. And she would talk about like, “That’s not happening. That’s not happening until a different mayor comes in,” because, you know, she made it clear that the mayor hired her to kind of stop that type of behavior. And there were multiple employees recording her. She would come in their office, and she would say these things that seemed like, at least to them, to be maybe (Human Resources) violations. And they would make the recording, or they just would record in order to have kind of proof of what was being said.
CG: So this was, like you said, they were trying to have proof that she actually said the things that she said?
KH: Yeah, I mean, what the employees told me, it was combination of being afraid that people wouldn’t believe what she was saying, but maybe more so that nothing would be done about it. Because you had another ally of the mayor, Niki Tshibaka, who at the time was the head of HR. And so when they would go to HR — what they said, and what is being reflected in, you know, lawsuits and complaints to the city and threats of lawsuits — is that when they went to HR, HR said, “Yeah, tough luck. Sorry.” You know, at first the response was, alright, we need people to officially complain. Then you have the head of HR, like wearing a T-shirt that says “I’m with Judy,” at the (Library) Advisory Board meeting. And so, you know, what message does that send to library employees? Certainly not that HR is going to want to hear your complaints about about Judy Eledge.
CG: Right. But there was somewhere else that they could take these complaints, theoretically, and who was that and what happened?
KH: So a few weeks ago I wrote a story about the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights, and how they had quietly changed positions on what types of anti-LGBTQ complaints they would investigate. Basically, they had stopped investigating most categories of LGBTQ complaints on the advice of (Gov. Mike) Dunleavy’s attorney general, Treg Taylor. And I think one of the most kind of newsworthy elements was this encounter, that one of the library employees had when they were talking to an investigator for the state commission, who says, in a recording, “Well, the LGBTQ stuff, which is some of the stuff that Eledge is talking about, we’ve been told not to investigate most categories there.” So that’s kind of a nonstarter. And it’s a sensitive issue for the governor. And, you know, this is the investigator saying, “We just recently got a valid complaint from the city that we turned away for political reasons, because of the political implication for the governor.”
CG: And so, I mean, as the stories have come out over the years about the things that she’s said, have you gotten any indication of why either the governor or the mayor still hold her so closely, despite all of that?
KH: First of all, Dunleavy and Bronson won’t do interviews. They just won’t. They won’t talk to you in-person about this stuff. Even if you kind of catch them somewhere, they just won’t talk. And so, you know, we send in the questions and then got a statement from the mayor’s office saying, they can’t comment because of this pending lawsuit. Which, you know, that’s fair. But a lot of what we were asking about had nothing to do with the lawsuit. It had to do with her history of social media, the the mayor’s relationship to her, their fundraising relationship. And so the mayor makes a statement through his spokesperson that says, “We can’t comment, but we denounce discriminatory talk.” And so that was the response from Bronson. But he has, at an Assembly meeting, said, “Look, this is someone who I’ve known for 25 years. She has my unquestioned support.”
Gov. Dunleavy is someone who had a fundraiser, co-hosted by Judy Eledge. She’s standing next to him when he won the state Republican primary. You know, she’s been clear that they’re close friends. They have a kind of a long political relationship. In the State of the State speech, he was saying, “Look, this is someone who exemplifies the heart of Alaska,” right? And he’s pretty steadfast about not answering questions about what’s the nature of that relationship, does it play a role in his decisions to appoint her to a national commission? So, long story short, he’s not answering questions about her.