Key officials from the White House and the Department of the Interior convened in Anchorage with the Alaska Federation of Natives on Monday to discuss infrastructure development initiatives in the state.
The high-profile meeting included Senior Advisor to President Joe Biden and White House Infrastructure Implementation Coordinator, Mitch Landrieu, Department of Interior Deputy Secretary Tommy Beaudreau, and other senior officials. U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski participated in the discussions.
It’s unclear if the State of Alaska was invited to attend, but no members of the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities were listed as part of the AFN meeting, which included:
Mitch Landrieu, White House Senior Advisor to President Biden; Ryan F. Berni, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Advisor for Infrastructure Implementation; Maya N. Humes, Senior Communications Advisor; Tommy Beaudreau, Department of the Interior Deputy Secretary; Mackenzie Landa, DOI Advisor to the Deputy Secretary; Raina Thiele, DOI Senior Advisor to the Secretary for Alaska Affairs and Strategic Priorities; Katherine Pustay Currie, DOI Deputy Infrastructure Coordinator; Sally Tucker, Senior Advisor, DOI Infrastructure Communications; Julie Kitka, President, AFN; Ana Hoffman, Co-Chair AFN; Joe Nelson, Co-Chair AFN; Ben Mallott, Vice President of External Affairs, AFN and Sealaska Corporation President; Nicole Borromeo, Executive Vice President and General Counsel, AFN; Nikki Stoops, Special Assistant to the President, AFN; Michelle Anderson, President, Ahtna, Inc., and AFN Board Member; Vivian Korthuis, President, AVCP and AFN Board Member; Nathan McCowan, CEO, St. George Tanaq Corporation and AFN Board Member; Sheri Buretta, President, Chugach Regional Corporation and AFN Board Member; Andy Stemp, Chief Financial Officer, Arctic Slope Native Association; and Tom Panamaroff, Koniag and AFN Board Member; Pat Pitney, President, University of Alaska; Garrett Boyle, Federal Co-Chair, Denali Commission; Daniel M. White, Chancellor, University of Alaska Fairbanks; and U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski.
Arctic Slope Regional Corporation and Doyon, two of the largest Alaska Native Corporations, were also apparently not part of this meeting. They have withdrawn from AFN. State of Alaska officials were not invited, as the White House continues to develop a government-to-government relationship with tribes that cuts out the any state-level entity.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has $5.2 billion in funding earmarked for Alaska across 934 infrastructure projects, which was the main topic of the AFN meeting. These funds are typically sent through state budgets and the projects are executed by the states themselves. Therefore, the largest state stakeholder being absent was noted by some Alaskans.
The entire parade of federal officials is unusual: Alaska has never in its history seen so many cabinet-level appointees as it has had this summer, and many are asking “Why all the attention, when the federal government seems intent on shutting Alaska’s economy down?”
In fact, so many Biden surrogates have been to Alaska, it’s hard to keep track of them all. This week, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland joins the list, touring rural communities with Sen. Lisa Murkowski and an entourage.
Murkowski has also been unusually visible and active, moving through many Alaska communities throughout August recess. Her staff nearly every day posts one or more videos or photos showcasing her visits on social media, a robust public relations campaign for her office. In reality, Sullivan has been more present in communities but has not been as active in publicizing his visits on social media.
Unlike Rep. Mary Peltola, who has been invisible in August over the recess, Murkowski and Sen. Dan Sullivan have been with Alaskans all over the state at an exhausting pace.
Update: Peltola has shown up for press conference photos at the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage on Tuesday.
On Monday, Sullivan was a speaker at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration port facility in Ketchikan, as the community welcomes the return of the NOAA ship Fairweather, which is home-ported in Ketchikan but has been in Oregon due to the disrepair of the dock in Ketchikan, a repair project that Sen. Sullivan has championed getting finished since he joined to the Senate in 2015.
Earlier this month, Sullivan brought Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to Kotzebue and he and Sullivan visited seven communities in three days, including Kobuk, Shungnak, and Kiana, Huslia, Hughes, and Allakaket.
The stream of federal visits to Alaska all started with a visit from First Lady Jill Biden to Bethel in May and continues this week with Attorney General Garland, Department of Commerce Assistant Secretary Susie Feliz, U.S. Small Business Administration Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator Dr. Richard Spinrad.
Along with the cabinet-level officials, they bring with them entire entourages of functionaries who have struggled to find hotel rooms and cars during the height of Alaska’s tourist season.