This story published in the Peninsula Clarion.
The Kenai Peninsula’s economy has long been dependent on oil and gas. What will you do to boost the economy on the Kenai Peninsula beyond oil and gas?
Well, beyond oil and gas, certainly agriculture. The blue economy. We have oyster farms. We have kelp salsa now made in Alaska. We have kelp beer now. I had some kelp beer in Kodiak. We need to be using and looking at all of our resources across the state, not just oil and gas. However, we’re still going to be a resource state. There’s no doubt about that. The largest project is on track to come to Kenai.
A lot of people on the peninsula are counting on the success of the LNG project, but there is a long way to go before it will start bringing in money. What policies do you plan on putting in place to make sure this project happens?
The policy is never to give up and continue to lead from the front and not to sit back and wait for someone to do it for us. That’s the model we’ve had before, and that’s what Sen. Dunleavy talked about. He would move back to that model that’s gotten us nowhere in 40 years. The governor of Alaska is the CEO of Alaska. You need to be the CEO of the company and lead the project, as I have. We need to sit down at the White House with the president of the United States, president of China, president of Korea, president of Vietnam, president of Tokyo Gas. That’s where the governor of Alaska needs to be the leader of this — and not sit back and hope somebody works it into their portfolio. You’ve got to have a governor that understands it, that knows it, that’s going to lead, and step up and make the project happen.
You got a lot of flack for reducing the Permanent Fund Dividend. What do you think the future of the PFD is considering Alaska’s deficit and economy?
We saved the PFD. We saved the program. It was on its way out. You look at any of the analysis done by the legislative financial analysts. If we hadn’t made that change, the PFD was at risk. We had to make the decision. Did we want to have it around for generations or a couple high years and then it goes away? You overdraw on that, you are going to do that. We did what we did to save the PFD. It has now grown to $1,600. About eight years ago, it was $800. Now it’s on track for another couple hundred. It’s going to continue to grow over time. The thing is, it’s going to be here for generations and generations. That’s what we did as far as restructuring that permanent fund.
Alaska has been hit hard by the ongoing opioid crisis. You’ve taken steps to tackle this with a package of measures that include increased public safety staffing, better mental health care and criminal justice reform. Considering the ongoing debate about the Alaska budget, do you feel there is enough funding to tackle this issue?
We brought a lot of money in from the federal side. We just received, last month, about $34 million in funding on this issue. I issued a declaration of disaster in February of 2017 on the opioid crisis. We set up an instant command system; we put together a team to issue. We have to get out there and get after it. And we are. We’ve intercepted one and a half million doses of drugs coming into Alaska. We have treatment beds we didn’t have. We’re increasing that significantly. It’s so huge, and the federal government is coming in financially to help us fund that.
There was some discussion that either you or Democrat Mark Begich would drop out, consolidating opposition to Mike Dunleavy. Did you ever consider dropping out? Do you feel that a three-way race has made it more difficult for you to gain re-election?
No, I didn’t consider dropping out. I don’t quit. I never have and I never will. I am advancing projects in Alaska that no other candidate is going to advance. If that LNG project does not happen because we have a governor that doesn’t understand it, then I think we’re in a very different state going forward. That’s the one that’s going to completely change our state as we’ve known it. Alaska has a decision to make. What kind of future do they want.
The Trump administration’s decision to impose steel tariffs has had an impact on the Port of Alaska in Anchorage, which already needs significant repairs, as well as potential impacts on pipeline construction. What’s your solution to making sure Alaska’s port and pipelines can operate profitably?
China’s not the only place that makes steel. They make steel in Japan. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline came from steel in Japan. The U.S. makes steel. There are lots of places that make steel. If it’s more economical to get the steel from someplace else, we’ll get it someplace else.
The criminal justice reform package passed in 2016 has gotten pushback from many people who feel it lets repeat offenders off the hook. What do you think is working with the reform, and what has to happen to make this reform more effective than it has been?
We made some modifications, and I called a special session for Senate Bill 54. Sen. Dunleavy voted against it. I’m not sure why he voted against a reform that put would put it back in SB 91. I know he voted for 91 so maybe he’s in favor of 91. The other thing is in this last session, which [Dunleavy] was not there for because he quit, was 312 which reformed more pieces of it. The other piece of that is recidivism. You’ve got to bring down recidivism. Sixty-seven percent of those who leave are coming back. When you’re cutting down recidivism in half, you’re reducing the crime rate.
Alaska’s economy is highly dependent on fossil fuels but is also uniquely susceptible to climate change. A recent UN report has said that the world has a little more than a decade to cut greenhouse gas emissions by half, and by 2050 greenhouse gas emissions would have to reach net zero. What policies will you put in place as governor to tackle this issue?
I certainly recognize it. I have set up a climate change action committee through an administrative order. That’s about 15 folks that have come together in many, many, many meetings — everything from a student in one of the most remote parts of Alaska, to the president of BP Alaska, all brought together to bring recommendations to me and what we can be doing.
You have come out against the Stand for Salmon initiative. What policies will you put in place to protect Alaska’ fishing industry and environment?
We have lots of policies in place to protect salmon, and we’re going to continue to do that. One of the things we need is a system in place that allows for local stakeholders to have a say or an involvement at the embryonic stage of a project to help with the beginnings of that. We used to have that years ago. It was called the coastal zone management committee that allowed stakeholders to have a say and be in that process. We need that. To do this by a piece of law that has not gone through all the review, all of the input – how is it going to affect commercial fishing? How is it going to affect Alaskan waters? How far does that go? I absolutely love salmon. I’m going to protect salmon every way I can, but to do that at the expense of our economy, there needs to be a balance on that. That’s why we have the process we have. Someone needs to bring to me the additional protections we need. Where is the gap? Show me where the gap is and not sort of just a holistic change.