A dozen executive orders from Gov. Dunleavy draw scrutiny

a man in a suit
Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks at a 9/11 memorial on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage on Sept. 11, 2023. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

Lawmakers and observers are expressing concern over a series of executive orders Gov. Mike Dunleavy unveiled this month. Dunleavy issued 12 orders, largely eliminating or reorganizing a wide range of boards and commissions. 

Before this month, Alaska’s governors had issued 123 executive orders since statehood. That number jumped 10% with a series of actions unveiled by the Dunleavy administration as lawmakers gathered in Juneau.

“We have never, in my experience, had 12 executive orders to deal with all at once,” Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, said at a recent news conference.

The Legislature has 60 days from the start of the session to consider them. Lawmakers can call a joint session, and with a majority vote, prevent them from becoming law.

That means the clock expires in mid-March. Stevens has referred all 12 to various Senate committees and legal aides for a closer look.

“We want to deal with these very quickly,” Stevens said. “We don’t want to see these become law without having a chance to thoroughly vet them and discuss them.”

The Alaska Constitution allows the governor to reorganize the executive branch to provide for “efficient administration.”

Through his communications staff, Dunleavy declined an interview for this story. But in a prepared statement, spokesperson Jessica Bowers said the purpose of the orders was to “make state government as efficient and effective as possible.”

Most of the orders would eliminate or restructure various state boards.

One would restructure the Alaska Marine Highway Operations Board, which advises state leaders on management of the ferry system. The order would allow the governor to appoint all nine members. Stevens, a longtime booster of the ferry system, says the legislative appointments – currently, there are four split between the leaders of the House and Senate – allow for a wider variety of input from coastal communities.

“It’s an important authority that the Legislature has and, personally, I would be very hesitant to give that up,” Stevens said.

The ferry board doesn’t have much legal power – its job is to plan and provide advice that the state may or may not follow. 

That’s the case for several other advisory boards that Dunleavy has proposed eliminating: the Alaska Council on EMS, the Criminal Justice Information Advisory Board and the Recreation Rivers Advisory Board, to name a few.

But some of the boards that would be eliminated do more than give the state advice. 

Take the Wood-Tikchik State Park Management Council, a seven-member group responsible for creating and updating plans for nearly 1.6 million acres of land at the headwaters of Bristol Bay. Those plans are then submitted to the state for approval and implementation.

“That has worked excellent since the park’s been created,” said Robin Samuelsen, who spent 15 years on the management council, including a stint as chairman. 

The council is made up of representatives from the towns, villages and tribes surrounding the park and includes representatives from the Governor’s administration.

One of Dunleavy’s executive orders eliminates that board entirely and rolls its functions into the Department of Natural Resources. In the order, Dunleavy says that eliminating the board would “provide a single point of responsibility for the development of Wood-Tikchik State Park’s management plan, resulting in increased performance and accountability.”

Samuelsen said he’s concerned Dunleavy’s plan to eliminate the board could be a first step towards opening the park to resource development.

“I do know that there’s a number of mining companies that are north, just north of the Wood-Tikchik State Park,” he said. “This governor is in love with the mining companies.”

Bowers, the spokesperson for the governor, said the order was not issued at the request of any individual or entity.

The executive order would not change the existing management plan. It would allow the Department of Natural Resources to modify the plan, subject to a review by experts and the public, Bowers said. However, it would not change an existing law that prohibits mining within the park’s boundaries.

A similar order would eliminate the advisory council for the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve in Upper Lynn Canal.

A number of boards that would be eliminated have regulatory power: for instance, the Board of Massage Therapists, which regulates the massage industry, would be eliminated, with its responsibilities turned over to the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. It’s a similar story for the Board of Barbers and Hairdressers and the Board of Certified Direct-Entry Midwives.

Another of the orders creates a new board for the Alaska Energy Authority, which currently shares a board with the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority. Another gives the Fish and Game commissioner the authority to prohibit “the live capture, possession, transport or release of native or exotic game or their eggs.”

At this point, some lawmakers have more questions than answers. Here’s Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage.

“Fundamentally as legislators, we have to jealously guard our ability to make law. That’s what we do,” Josephson said in an interview. “That’s why there’s sensitivity about these. It may be, in the end, that these are fine.”

House Majority Leader Dan Saddler, R-Anchorage, says legislators plan to look closely at the orders.

“Having been at boards and commissions for a while, I know that there are some boards that may benefit from some more efficient operations, but we’ll consider each on its own merits and make decisions, and that’ll just come out through the process of committee meetings,” Saddler said at a news conference.

Hearings on the orders are expected to begin in the coming weeks.

Eric Stone covers state government, tracking the Alaska Legislature, state policy and its impact on all Alaskans. Reach him at estone@alaskapublic.org.

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