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Tuesday, December 11, 2018
HomeAlaska NewsIn rural Alaska, they rallied to ‘make it work’

In rural Alaska, they rallied to ‘make it work’

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.

First Lady Rose Dunleavy greets friends in Kotzebue before heading to Noorvik.

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.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy delivers his remarks in Noorvik, while members of his family look on. His daughter Maggy was not able to get to Noorvik due to weather at the Red Dog Mine, where she works.

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.

A sign in the Noorvik school cafeteria welcomes the new First Lady, whose hometown is Noorvik.

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.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy leaves Noorvik late Monday afternoon, heading for Anchorage.

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.

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • God bless Governor Dunleavy and his family and all of Alaska. What a way to show resilience when Mother Nature throws unexpected obstacles in the way. I am so proud of our state!

  • God Bless and Go Mike! Light the fire! Let’s get this thing movin’!

  • Beautiful ceremony, beautiful First Family, and beautifully written piece, Suzanne. You make us proud with your writing talent and ability to report on events that the general media won’t do.
    I watched the local stations on TV tonight and the coverage given to Governor Dunleavy’s swearing-in was pretty thin. Compare this to Bill Walker’s swearing-in on December 1, 2014 at Centennial Hall in Juneau. Walker, a former Republican now turned Independent (Democrat) aligning with Byron Mallott to turn Alaska into a progressive, diverse, all inclusive state. Traditional Tlingit costumes to show Unity amongst Alaskans. The Big Media couldn’t get enough of Bill Walker and his newfound popularity in the Liberal Establishment.
    Well, we can look back over the past four years and see what Bill Walker really did to Alaska. Utterly disgraceful! Many of his lieutenants are long gone from the 49th state. Byron Mallott completely off the radar and no where to be found, after his sexual abuse of a minor child. The entire Walker Administration is frought with shame and deceipt. Their 4-year battlecry…… to squeeze more money from the state so it can be spread around to the state employees who bring us the over-abundance of government and needless spending that causes ruin within our borders.
    We Alaskans pray that Governor Dunleavy corrects the course. Walker lost his way and steered the ship of state upon the rocks. Governor Dunleavy can steady the ship, refloat with the rising tide, and steer us back into the channel. We are counting on you, Governor Dunleavy!

  • Keep up your excellent reporting.

  • This is the first time I have heard that Former Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott actually committed sexual abuse against a child
    Maybe I’m wrong but I thought that he had said some bad words

    • The mainstream press simply will not touch the story, afraid that the Native community in SE Alaska will somehow be offended by the sexual actions of an Elder against an underage girl. Mallott is pure slime and should have been arrested. But the mother of this young girl is ALSO Mallott’s “on the side” girlfriend. Culpability in this situation goes to former governor Bill Walker, who has done his level best to hide the facts. An investigation is warranted, and the State Troopers should begin.

      • The Mallott “sexual abuse of a minor” story, and the “cover-up” by Bill Walker is far from over. Dunleavy has put in place many new faces in Alaska law enforcement. Let’s hope this opens the door into Mallott’s activities. Let the spotlight shine.

  • Nice ceremony. Hoping for success. Can’t wait for public safety announcement of commissioner Amanda price and deputy mike Duxbury

  • Clearly the most ALASKAN and filled with happiness and pure joy swearing in since Egans first swearing in many years ago now….

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