ANCHORAGE — Grammy award winning band Portugal. The Man made the loudest and largest statement yet opposing Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s 182 line-item vetoes. The band that got its start in Wasilla stood in front of thousands Tuesday who chanted with Portugal in support of overriding the vetoes, “save our state.”
“I’ve invested 70 years building Alaska and I feel that there’s a conspiracy to tear Alaska down,” said 95-year-old Vic Fisher, the last living framer of the Alaska Constitution.
Fisher was among many speakers who took the stage in the parking lot of the Alaska Airlines Center on the UAA campus in between songs performed by Portugal, and got the largest cheer from the crowd. Prior to Fisher’s turn to speak to the gathered masses demanding a vote to override the vetoes, the native land was blessed and the crowd was addressed by all female speakers. The band made up of Alaskans John Gourley, Zach Carothers and Erik Howk hosted the rally to call to override the vetoes with help from the Union of Students of the University of Alaska Anchorage (USUAA) that was attended by thousands of chanting, sign-waving Alaskans. Some came to support their favorite local band, but all came to support a vote to override the vetoes, hoping to send a message to Dunleavy.
“I don’t know that he is receiving messages,” said Beth Adams. “I graduated from this university a long time ago. My son goes here. You know we’re grown people, we’re Alaskans. We live here, we enjoy the university, we enjoy the things that he’s trying to destroy and I’m not having it. I’m mad. It’s good vibes but I’m mad.”
Adams has lived in Alaska for the entirety of her 65 years and said that she has never seen such selfishness and greed coming from the governor’s office before. Coming off a rousing speech in front of the students he is fighting for, University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen shared a moment with former Representative Jason Grenn.
“Thank you for everything sir. I appreciate it a lot. We’ll keep fighting, we’re trying, we’re not forfeiting,” Grenn said to Johnsen.
Johnson was happy to see Portugal liven up the rally and add their support to override the vetoes. The three Alaskans in the group played a slowed down, stripped down version of their hits. They announced on their Twitter account on Saturday, stating simply “Coming home for this @GovDunleavy Let’s talk.”
The Tweet included a link to an article on the Guardian detailing Dunleavy’s $130 million in cuts to the university.
“I go back and forth between disappointment and sadness and there’s a little bit of anger in there, but I come always around to a deep passion for our state and for the opportunity only higher education can provide our people. So when I get with students, they get me all pumped up and reenergized for doing the right thing for our people,” Johnsen said.
Amid two separate gatherings for a second special session in Juneau and Wasilla, legislators have until Friday to vote to override the vetoes. A vote is scheduled for Wednesday morning.
“I think it’s inspired people to speak and to act and I think that’s really impactful and something that’s been needed. I think people are angry, but they’re not here to yell scream or fight, they’re here to just to show their support for Alaska,” said Marianne Murray.
Murray was gathered, holding signs with some of her fellow UAA School of Nursing faculty members at the rally. Among the thousands gathered in front of the stage in the parking lot at the Alaska Airlines Center on the UAA campus were former Mat-Su Borough School District graduates supporting the override.
“I guess the governor right now is more focused on the dividend rather than education,” said 2018 Wasilla High School grad Azlynn Brandenburg.
Brandenburg noted the long-term values of supporting the university as opposed to the popular promise of a larger check. Brandenburg won state titles in basketball with Wasilla High School in 2016 and 2017 and returned to Alaska to continue her education. Brandenburg fears that her ambitious studies with a major in philosophy and minors in legal studies and women and gender studies could be the first programs to suffer the fate of the 182 line-item vetoes.
Former State Board of Education and Early Development Student Representative and Palmer High School grad Carly Williams fears her graduate program she’d planned to complete at the University of Alaska may also be cut. However, Williams saw the positive impacts of the thousands gathered to send their message to override the vetoes.
“I think it brings people together. It empowers people. It energizes people, and these people will actually go home and talk about it not just with our legislators but with our neighbors with our families with people, not just those of us here, but people whose minds can be changed,” Williams said.
Connor Owens, who just graduated from Palmer High and planned to attend UA in the fall, showed up to the concert to voice his concern over the cuts to the university.
“I’m going to be going to college in state so this definitely could potentially affect me in a negative way as well as everyone else who is in this state and I think as the governor you’re supposed to do your job to protect the people,” Owens said.
The thousands that joined together in a parking lot to let their voice be heard joined the Grammy Award winning members of Portugal in an emotional performance of the Alaska State Flag song to end the concert.
“People see the impacts of the cuts and they look at what that does to their community and they get upset. On the other hand though, I mean you see events like this, you see the rallies, you see the unprecedented reaching out to their legislators, so I think you see solidarity,” Grenn said.
Grenn knew that some of the members of the crowd had shown up just to see Portugal. The Man, but knew the value of the band of Alaskans on stage adding to the message coming from Alaskans. Portugal’s lead singer John Gourley has ‘KNIK’ tattooed behind his left ear.
“You have a nationally known, Grammy winning act who’s from Alaska who says we’re going to put aside our celebrity, our fame and come and fight for what we believe in which is the quality of life in our state. So I think it does kind of make a difference,” Grenn said.
Standing behind a table at one of the many booths lining the parking lot edges, Olivia Garrett was discussing the effects of the cuts with fellow Alaskans. She described the effects in a piece of art her friend had done depicting the death of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Nanook via red pen marked ‘veto.’ Garrett says Dunleavy’s cuts feel like a stab in the back, and says that if young Alaskans are concerned that The Last Frontier may not be suitable for children, it is time to make changes.
“This is the biggest protest I’ve ever been to and Alaskans are actually throwing down for the first time, we’re learning how to like really protest and really hound legislators and how to demand certain things from them and remind them who they work for and it’s great,” Garrett said. “I love seeing all of my apolitical friends turning out for this, so it’s cool. It’s great. I love seeing the enthusiasm we can get when people realize we all have a stake in something.”