GOV. DUNLEAVY, LT. GOV. MEYER SWORN IN WITH RURAL ‘CAN-DO’ FINESSE
One thing you can count on in Alaska in the winter: The weather can throw a wrench into your plans.
In rural Alaska, even more so.
But because of the quick work and innovation of the people of Kotzebue and Noorvik on Monday, the peaceful transfer of power took place in the State of Alaska, and it all happened above the Arctic Circle in the most remote region of the state, weather notwithstanding.
The people made it work.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s plane was supposed to land in Noorvik, but diverted to Kotzebue after a low ceiling cause the pilot to change the flight plan.
But per the Constitution, the new governor needed to be sworn in by noon. There wasn’t a lot of time, but Kotzebue came through. And Noorvik shone brightly.
Dunleavy entered the Bering Air waiting room in Kotzebue after disembarking from his plane at 10:30 a.m. He went around the crowded room and greeted people before getting into a van and heading to the school district headquarters. It was barely daylight.
Meanwhile, the high school quickly set up the chairs and podium in the gymnasium, and students filed in for an impromptu assembly.
An internet connection was established with Noorvik, so that community, 42 miles away, could take part — they watched from their own school gymnasium, where Dunleavy had been expected in person.
By noon, the right hands had been raised by both Gov. Dunleavy and Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer, and Alaska had a new leadership team. They gave their remarks. The community prayed, and gave its blessing to the new leaders. Songs were sung.
If it wasn’t clear by the effort he made to move heaven and earth to make good on his commitment to the cermony in rural Alaska, Dunleavy made it plain in his remarks: “We never forgot about rural Alaska. You’re not going to be an afterthought.”
A half hour later, Dunleavy and his family had taken dozens of photos with people, had hugged dozens more, and were on their way to Noorvik to take part in what was even more like a family reunion, with many of his wife Rose Dunleavy’s relatives and Noorvikian friends in attendance at the school.
Nearly the only city folks were media who chartered flights for the historic occasion.
The mood in Noorvik was jubilant, as Gov. Dunleavy walked into the school building, and a roar of applause broke out. He worked his way into the gymnasium and gave an even more personal and heartfelt set of remarks, unscripted, to the community that helped forge his governorship. After all, Rose was raised in Noorvik. This region of the state is where he spent nearly two decades as an educator.
The community had been preparing a feast for weeks. Fresh flower arrangements had been flown in at great expense to adorn the tables. The school was spotless, and dozens of snow machines were parked right outside the door. It was apparent that this ceremony mattered, and they were not going to allow the weather delay to dampen their spirits.
Some 20 gallons of caribou stew was simmering on the school’s kitchen stove, and filets of salmon, buckets of mashed potatoes, gravy and rolls were ready to feed the 600 people in attendance — elders served first.
Noorvikians were hospitable, greeting strangers with “Welcome to Noorvik!” and “Thank you for coming.” They were smiling and gracious hosts, helping visitors get to and from the air strip, and showing the pride in their community. Dunleavy and his family sat with members of their extended family and had a family dinner to remember.
Simultaneously, back in Anchorage and Juneau, the Dunleavy team had by then walked into the governmental headquarters and taken over operations. The new Administration issued its first press release by 1:15 pm, which was simply the announcement of the swearing in being completed.
And the second press release came hot on its heels — the announcement of the new commissioner of Fish and Game — Doug Vincent-Lang, a former division director at Fish and Game who had been “let go” immediately by the previous Walker Administration, when it came into power exactly four years prior.
The new government was clearly in business, and as many as 20 top political appointees were released within the first hour.
Dunleavy and his family were on the plane from Noorvik directly back to Anchorage by 4 pm, heading into the twilight of an Arctic night, and to his first cabinet meeting, where the discussion was focused entirely on the earthquake in Southcentral, the damage assessments and plans underway, and the continuation of operations for state and local operations.
Dunleavy has his work cut out for him in urban Alaska, where much is broken — not only the economy, the sense of public safety, but now the infrastructure. It will be trial by fire from Day One.
But for one day, it was a celebration of rural Alaska and all it has meant to him in his life. His gratitude to the people in the Arctic was evident today, the day he became their governor.