Gov. Mike Dunleavy drew upon his decades of living above the Arctic Circle in his speech to the congregants at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention in Anchorage on Thursday.
Dressed in his best suit and tie and looking fit and trim, having come off of a successful Wednesday night debate with his competitors, Alaska’s governor was relaxed and personable as he spent the better part of 15 minutes talking about his love for rural Alaska and how it has shaped him as governor.
He told the story of teaching in Koyuk, on the north shore of Norton Sound with a population of 250 people, and how it changed him for the better.
“Rural Alaska is always at the top of my mind, because I know that living in those communities made me the person I am today. I know that living in rural Alaska made me a better person,” he said. “I know that I consider those years to be some of the best years of my life, whether it was visiting with elders, whether it was watching my kids grow up, or whether it was going with my family to catch our food.”
Dunleavy, who like the late Gov. Jay Hammond, spent nearly half of his life in rural Alaska said, “There’s hardly a day that goes by when I don’t have a moment when I wish I was back there. It’s where I met my wife Rose, got married, and where my daughters spent their childhoods. It’s where I made some of my fondest memories and some of my best friends.”
Hammond, too, was a rural Republican and was the only Republican in Alaska state history to be reelected for a second term — so far. Like Hammond, Dunleavy is married to an Alaska Native, and has raised Native children. And Like Hammond, Dunleavy has advocated for protecting the Permanent Fund dividend.
Rural Alaska was where Dunleavy chose to be sworn into office in 2018, and where he held his first inaugural celebration, in his wife Rose’s hometown of Noorvik, he told the audience.
“Rural Alaska isn’t just a place I lived. It’s part of my life,” Dunleavy said, and then segued into speaking about the impact of the pandemic on rural Alaska, and other challenges the people of village Alaska face every day.
It was the first time the governor has been able to speak in person to the convention since before the pandemic, as this year’s convention is the first to be held in person since 2019. He has only spoken in person to AFN as governor once — and then the pandemic hit in 2020. Dunleavy said he was thrilled to be back with people of Alaska in person.
A word cloud (emphasis analysis) of the governor’s speech to the Alaska Federation of Natives gives a flavor of his topics: