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We Build Alaska

The Sunday Minefield – February 11, 2024

I hope everyone enjoyed the awesome Super Bowl game that ended in overtime! I watched it at a friend’s house in Auke Bay with a bunch of cool cats. We are almost one month into the session, and things definitely got a bit weird this week. Education continues to be a big topic in the Capitol yet nothing is moving. Governor Mike Dunleavy (R – Alaska) held a press conference that can best be described as bizarre. The House and Senate Resources Committees held a joint hearing on Cook Inlet gas, where the message essentially was we better do something real quick to avoid gas supply issues in Southcentral. Chief Justice Peter Maassen delivered a rather mundane State of the Judiciary to a joint session of the Legislature. And the House Judiciary Committee voted 2-5 against raising the age of consent from 16 to 18 after most of them said they supported it.

A friendly message and reminder to all our readers. The Landmine is made possible by myself and a team of awesome Alaskans. I am back to Juneau soon for my sixth session in a row reporting on the Legislature. If you enjoy the content we provide, please consider making a one time or recurring monthly donation. You can click here to donate. We have a donation system that makes it super easy. We would really appreciate it. And thanks to everyone who has been supportive!

Strange Presser 

Governor Dunleavy held a hastily announced press conference on Wednesday afternoon on the third floor of the Capitol. If you did not watch it, I highly recommend spending the hour to check it out. He came out with a slicked back hairstyle ready to go! He did a ten minute opener on a wide array of education issues before taking questions from members of the media. He was asked about things like his recent executive orders, his education priorities, and the idea of sending National Guard troops to Texas. He wasn’t too keen on some of the questions that were asked. It puzzles me why he, or any politician, makes proposals and then either gets annoyed with or isn’t prepared to answer questions about what they are proposing.

His vibe was very different than normal. He was seriously amped up and even asked for water in the middle of the press conference. He also referred to himself as “Dunleavy” several times. You can check out this video from Alaska Robotics to get an idea of how loose the press conference was.

It’s clear that he’s not happy about how the narrative is playing out on education. After the press conference his office sent out a press release titled, “Governor Dunleavy Addresses Questions and Misconceptions on Education Reform in Alaska.” He then went after the Anchorage Daily News for not giving the kind of education coverage he wanted. At the end of the press conference he said, “We’ll do this more often, ok!” I hope so.

Several state executives saw pay increases last year, travel costs increased

The following is an excerpt from this week’s edition of the Alaska Political Report. You can click here for more information about the Political Report. A subscription is $1,299/year per organization. Discounted pricing is available for non-profits and government entities. Our coverage of the budget starts with the governor’s proposed budget, and we track everything in detail through the entire process. If you have any questions or would like to subscribe, please email

The 2023 executive compensation and travel report is out. It’s a reminder that the state continues to pay some eye-popping salaries to some of its executives — particularly at state corporations and other quasi-independent entities. It also shows state travel was up from 2022, despite a September memo from the Office of the Governor attempting to curtail travel. We will have a breakdown of the legislative travel reports soon.

Note that “other” compensation usually refers to travel but can include things like leave cash out. 

  • Frank Richards, who heads the Alaska Gasline Development Corp., continues to be Alaska’s highest paid state employee. He was compensated $479,000, $91,000 of this was classified as “other.” This is a $26,000 increase from the previous year.
  • Bill O’Leary, president of the Alaska Railroad, was compensated 382,000, $67,0000 of which was classified as “other.” This is a $48,000 increase from the pervious year.
  • Bryan Butcher, chief executive at Alaska Housing Finance Corp., was compensated $356,000, up $43,000 from the previous year.
  • Deven Mitchell, the executive director of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation, was compensated $350,000.
  • Randy Ruaro, the head of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority collected $270,000, $24,000 of which was classified as “other.”
  • Curtis Thayer, the head of the Alaska Energy Authority, made $226,000, $16,000 of which was classified as “other.” This is a $13,000 increase from the pervious year.
  • Stephen Williams, the CEO of the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, was compensated $219,000, $7,600 of which was classified as “other.”
  • Sana Efird, executive director of the Alaska Student Loan Corp., made $203,000, $11,000 of which was classified as “other.” This is a $30,000 increase from the pervious year.
  • Ryan Williams, executive director of the Alaska Municipal Bond Bank Authority, was paid $167,000.
  • Jeremy Woodrow, the chief executive of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, was paid $164,000, $19,000 of which was classified as “other.”
  • Milton Keeter, the former CEO of the Alaska Aerospace Corporation who resigned in March, collected $85,000, $27,000 of which was classified as “other.”

Meanwhile, University of Alaska President Pat Pitney collected $403,000, up $52,000 from the previous year. This includes $22,000 for housing and $9,600 for a vehicle. University of Alaska Fairbanks Chancellor Dan White made $336,000, up $28,000, with $9,600 for a vehicle. University of Alaska Anchorage Chancellor Sean Parnell made $306,000, up $20,000, along with $2,300 for a vehicle and housing in the former home of Elmer and Mary Louise Rasmuson that was donated to UAA by the Rasmuson Foundation. Paul Layer, the VP for Academics, Students and Research, was paid $254,000. And Michelle Rizk, VP for University Relations, was paid $250,000.

The 2023 report shows that executive branch travel costs were up from 2022. Dunleavy and his commissioners spent $531,000 on travel last year, up nearly $100,000 from the previous year. The biggest spender was Natural Resources Commissioner John Boyle, who racked up just over $67,000 in travel costs. Transportation Commissioner Ryan Anderson came in second with $61,000 in travel.

Other Happenings 

The House and Senate Resources Committees held a joint hearing on Wednesday on the Cook Inlet gas situation. Summary: there’s plenty of gas in Cook Inlet but we are still running out because not enough additional gas is able to be produced. LNG imports seem like a forgone conclusion at this point. Which is wild considering how much gas and coal we have in this state. Oil and gas companies Hilcorp, Furie, and Bluecrest testified, as well as the gas utility Enstar. Hilcorp, who supplies the vast majority of Cook Inlet gas to Enstar and Chugach, got grilled by members. While Furie and Bluecrest, who produce comparatively little gas and don’t have the money needed to develop their gas, got softballs. Buy a wood stove if you live in Southcentral.

The House Judiciary Committee held a meeting on Friday where they heard amendments to one of Governor Dunleavy’s bills on sex offenders. Representative Andrew Gray (D – Anchorage) had an amendment to raise the age of consent from 16 to 18 (there currently has to be no more than a four year different if you are under 18). Gray stated that raising it would put us in line with many red states. After most of the members of the committee agreed with Gray, they nonetheless voted no for a variety of reasons including the cost and having to hire more people. Representative Sarah Vance (R – Homer), who chairs the committee, went off on Gray after he summarized what they all had said. It was something else.

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R – Alaska) will give her annual address to the Legislature on Wednesday morning.

Murkowski announced this week that her Chief of Staff Kaleb Froehlich is leaving his role for a job in the private sector.

Very sad news. Former Representative Tom Anderson passed away. If you knew Tom you knew he was a larger than life character. I worked with him a lot over the last several years. I am sure going to miss talking to him. Even I had a hard time getting in a word with him sometimes! He will definitely be missed.

Palmer City Council member Richard Best is at it again! Very loose.

This Week’s Loose Unit 

There were a LOT of candidates this week. But one really stood out. This week’s Loose Unit is Senator Cathy Giessel (R – Anchorage). At the conclusion of the joint Resources Committee hearing, Representative Tom McKay (R – Anchorage), the chair of the House Resources Committee, was trying to end the meeting. But Giessel, one of the co-chairs of the Senate Resources Committee, physically grabbed the mic away from him. It was very loose. But then after briefly giving the mic back to McKay, she grabbed it back again while he was trying to adjourn the meeting so she could! This all happened in the span of 40 seconds. Giessel really wanted to show everyone that she’s in charge. It was classic Loose Unit behavior.

If you have a nomination for this week’s Loose Unit, or if you have any political news, stories or gossip (or any old pics of politicians or public officials) please email me at

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5 months ago

It’s not surprising behavior from Sarah Vance. You might recall, not long after she was first elected she proposed cuts to school budgets to make up for budget deficits. As a result of that, many students at Homer High School wrote letters to her appealing to her to keep sufficient funding in schools to support all the programs that were offered by the school. Anyway, in classic loose unit behavior, she took to Facebook to post a video of herself reading some these letters and then berating students for not referring to her as representative Vance. I guess at least… Read more »

Grizzly Joe
5 months ago

Sarah Vance is an awful person. And truly an idiot elected by morons.

5 months ago
Reply to  Grizzly Joe

No doubt. Apparently she’s also pissed that white women are 10 times less likely to be murdered by men than indigenous Alaskans in rural areas.