WASILLA — After a career of 20 years in public service, Colleen Sullivan-Leonard has decided not to run for reelection in House District 7 this fall.
Sullivan-Leonard began serving after she was appointed to the Wasilla Planning Commission in 1999. While she still has one session left as a member of the State House, Sullivan-Leonard is looking forward to spending more time with her family.
“When you’re away for so many days out of the year and in the last three years I’ve spent more time in Juneau than I have at home and I’ve got grandchildren,” said Sullivan-Leonard. “It just says that my time is probably more important toward the home front.”
Sullivan-Leonard asked her father for advice when she heard she would be appointed to the planning commission.
From there, Sullivan-Leonard ran for the Wasilla City Council where she continued to represent the people of Wasilla.
When the 31st legislature finishes business at some point next summer, Sullivan-Leonard will leave behind two decades of work in local and state government.
“I look forward to being with my grandkids and having a chance to be grand ma ma Colleen,” said Sullivan-Leonard. “Now’s my time to give back to the family and again I look forward to that.”
Serving on the Wasilla City Council under then Mayor Sarah Palin, Sullivan-Leonard was pleased to be able to lower the mill rate. Sullivan-Leonard was on the council when the bond project funded the Curtis D. Menard Memorial Sports Complex.
“That allows your citizens to say hey, we can trust local government. They said they would hike it up a bit and then take it away when the project was done and that to me is a big accomplishment because that allowed us to further look at the library. We needed a new library. The community asked for it and again they had that trust in us that we could raise the sales tax and lower it afterwards and so I think that’s pretty good when you look at accountability for any government,” said Sullivan-Leonard.
Sullivan-Leonard began working in the state legislature as an aide for the late Carl Gatto in the House of Representatives in 2003. Sullivan-Leonard then continued working in Juneau for Governors Frank Murkowski, Sarah Palin and Sean Parnell before returning to the local level when she was again elected to the Wasilla City Council in 2010.
“We were able to help with some of the parks and I was thrilled with that this is where you get some of that personal contact with your neighbors and really when we say government is local at the local level, really it’s so true. Your connection is so much stronger,” said Sullivan-Leonard.
While in Juneau, Sullivan-Leonard has served on the House Finance Committee and takes pride in watching the budget of the state. Sullivan-Leonard is strongly in favor of Senator Shelley Hughes’ bill for a state audit.
“You really need to do an audit of each little pocket of money. People have this ownership and it’s a wrong ownership of funds, of state dollars that they think they personally have the control over,” said Sullivan-Leonard. “Like Donna [Arduin] would say, all money is green and it’s true. Who should say that one person should have funding over and above another.”
Through her work on House Finance over the last three years as a member of the House, Sullivan-Leonard has had to learn to cooperate with her colleagues, such as family friend Rep. Neal Foster (D-Nome).
“You learn to find those commonalities and that’s really what you work towards. It doesn’t change my philosophy. I am very much a true conservative. I really work hard you know to find reductions in the budget and efficiencies and at the same time, again I look for those commonalities with my colleagues to work with them,” said Sullivan-Leonard.
After Sullivan-Leonard won the seat in the House in 2016, she was surprised when her husband ran for the Mat-Su Borough Assembly.
Sullivan-Leonard’s husband Ted represents District 4 of the Mat-Su Borough and also provides a wealth of over two decades of government finance knowledge.
“We have really good discussions on things that I might not be aware of and he gets information on what’s happening in the Assembly and so that helps me. Then as I’m going to Juneau, to understand some of the challenges they’re going through because on the surface you may not get some of that information normally,” said Sullivan-Leonard.
Throughout her career, Sullivan-Leonard has done her best to serve the people of Wasilla, specifically working to improve Knik-Goose Bay Road.
“I can’t tell you how difficult it was to have the previous administration just put a halt on this project just for political reasons. That was the most horrible thing I think I’ve ever seen in the political arena,” said Sullivan-Leonard. “We held the KGB town hall recently and part of that was you know, here we had another fatality on the highway and from the state level and everywhere it’s just uncomfortably silent, almost like we’re expecting another fatality on the road and nobody is going to do anything about it. So I called the governor, I called DOT, I called public safety, I said this is unacceptable. I’m holding a town hall specifically on Knik-Goose Bay Road, will you please come and Mike called me right back and he says I’ll be there and my commissioner is coming and he says I want you to know, I’m calling John from his vacation to be here so it was so important to the governor and so important to me and to my community to address the situation before us.”