WASILLA — To much fanfare, Gov. Mike Dunleavy stood in front of a crowd of supporters and told those assembled that he plans to keep his promise and restore the full Permanent Fund Dividend.
The legislature has yet to pass a budget as they near the end of their first special session. Dunleavy has contacted the Mat-Su Borough School District in plans to call the legislators to another special session at Wasilla Middle School. Dunleavy’s rally at Everett’s on Wasilla Lake Thursday was not as well attended as his Americans for Prosperity sponsored budget roadshow, but hundreds showed up to cheer on the governor and enjoy an ice cream in the warm summer night air.
“This is not really just about the PFD, but what’s really at stake is your government, our way of life and the idea that we make a difference,” Dunleavy said.
Dunleavy repeated what Deputy Chief of Staff Jeremy Price began the rally with, by telling the crowd that the rally was not really about the PFD, but about the people in attendance. Price urged those in attendance to put pressure on legislators to follow Dunleavy’s promises. Rick Green, (better known by his radio moniker Rick Rydell) compared Dunleavy to an old friend. He talked about friends who are reliable and have your back and said that Dunleavy has delivered on two of his three promises by repealing SB91 and putting forth what Green described as “an honest budget.” Green then echoed what every speaker asked the audience to do. Green said that he had spoken with his representatives and encouraged the crowd to reach out to ‘those resistant few.’
While Dunleavy held budget discussions sponsored by AFP, the House Majority held their own discussions to talk about how to spend Alaskan’s money. While many of the budget roadshows held by the house were opposed to Dunleavy’s budget cuts, the meeting in the Mat-Su was front-loaded with intensely emotional Dunleavy supporters.
“The Alaska House Majority held community forums across the state in events that were open for the public to weigh in and share ideas. In those meetings, Alaskans opposed the governor’s drastic budget cuts 5-to-1. People from all walks of life and from many political corners expressed their deep concern that essential state services would be targeted for large reductions. The campaign to discuss the PFD in isolation — separate from how we will pay for schools, Pioneer Homes, and other critical services — fails to take the entire picture into consideration. We remain committed to passing a balanced budget and a sustainable PFD for tomorrow’s generation while having an honest conversation with Alaskans,” said Speaker Bryce Edgemon in a statement.
As Dunleavy walked to the stage following a half-dozen speakers and two multimedia presentations, one fan shouted, “show me the money.”
Dunleavy began by recognizing veterans in attendance and reflecting on D-Day and the 75th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy, and the battle of Midway and the Japanese attack on the Aleutian Islands to say that Alaska is at the forefront when it comes to defense of the country.
“It’s an unbelievable state. We’re not just talking about the beauty and the vistas and the opportunities here in terms of outdoor activities, but economic opportunities, but also just the fact that we love to be left alone,” Dunleavy said.
Dunleavy received the largest and loudest applause of the evening when he discussed the issue of compromise. Dunleavy said that those asking him to compromise are really asking him to capitulate.
“Quite frankly I refuse to do that,” Dunleavy said as the crowd roared.
Dunleavy repeated that it was important for him to keep his promises and hoped to restore trust in elected officials. He said that representatives working in Juneau are not the bosses, and that legislators are elected to carry out the will of the people. He finished by echoing the call of each speaker, to contact who Dunleavy referred the “other legislators.”
“Help to get them to understand what the PFD is all about and what your involvement in government is all about and what the size of the government, the spend, the budget is all about. I mean how big of a government do we really want and do we really need, because I can tell you this. It can grow uncontrollably. It can keep growing until your PFD is gone,” Dunleavy said.
Prior to Dunleavy taking the stage, a Carhartt-suit jacket clad Price got the second loudest cheer of the night with one of his questions. Price asked what political parties were represented in the audience. Though crickets are not a native species to Alaska, they were audible when Price asked if any Democrats were in the house. After the awkward silence, the crowd erupted in laughter.
Director of Dunleavy’s office in the Mat-Su, Todd Smoldon, also called on his background in education to lead a chant. Smoldon led the crowd by saying, “follow the law.” Clem Tillion, one of the founders of the PFD, shared his thoughts on a video.
“Legislators are elected by special interests that pay their campaign funds and they will use up your whole inheritance if you do not say no. This portion, small as it may be, belongs to the people and we want not just a fixed dividend we want a share of what our money earns,” Tillion said.
Vice Chair of the Alaskan Republican Party Ann Brown thanked the crowd for supporting Dunleavy’s agenda.
“I’m really glad to see you all here realizing that elections have consequences,” Brown said.
Most of the elected legislators from the Valley were joined by Homer representative Sarah Vance in a second video presented to the crowd. Every legislator from the Valley except for Mike Shower pledged their vote for the repeal of the statutory amount of the PFD. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, Shelley Hughes, David Wilson, Cathy Tilton, George Rauscher and the legislator who got the loudest applause of them all, David Eastman, each provided a small clip. Fresh off his service on the Mat-Su Borough Platting Board, Greg Pugh took the mic.
“People know me as the loudmouth from the back end of the bus,” Pugh said.
Pugh told the crowd with musical rhythm, cadence and volume that he had told Dunleavy to do two things in exchange for his vote, stand tall and say no. Pugh paused for considerable applause before charging on to support Dunleavy’s constitutional amendments.
“I know what it is to wear the uniform and I know what it is to stand up for what’s right and what’s right is not just a full PFD, that’s right, but the fact of the matter is if you want to make changes to that PFD, I need to vote for it,” Pugh said.
Pugh had risen above a holler and among outbursts of support from the crowd, boisterously yelled his exit.
“You cannot sit on the sidelines and allow these criminals to come in and take what’s yours,” Pugh said.
Among the laughter on the evening were two musical performances of parodies. Half of a quartet performed a parody of “Walking in a Winter Wonderland.” Smoldon introduced his wife Carrie, who sang a remix of Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler.”
“You’ve got to know how to budget, know how to cut costs, know how to say no, rethink priorities. You never spend more money when less is coming in,” Smoldon sang. “Now go on and make the budget that doesn’t take our PFD’s”
Contact Frontiersman reporter Tim Rockey at firstname.lastname@example.org.