I thought the former state labor commissioners were gentle in their criticism of the Dunleavy administration with their opinion column in the Nov. 5 edition of the Anchorage Daily News. I’ll not be so gentle.
I would describe as unconscionable and indefensible the disrespect for the public and disregard for honest government in the decision by the governor’s office to block the publication of a factual report on teacher salaries in Alaska.
Even for the administration of Gov. Mike Dunleavy, this is a low point in putting politics ahead of good government. And that’s saying a lot for an administration that has been criticized by the court for firing state employees who refused to pledge political loyalty to the governor, and an administration that runs up legal bills in politically induced lawsuits faster than a teenager spending on their parents’ credit card.
State government should be about telling the public what is happening and why, the costs, the problems, the choices and what elected officials are doing to find answers. It should not be about hiding the facts or blocking the disclosure of information that could be seen as unflattering to the governor.
Yet that is exactly what the governor’s office did.
For decades, the Alaska Department of Labor has published a monthly magazine of facts, numbers and information about job, career, economic and population trends — thus the name “Trends.” The unbiased publication is widely quoted and widely respected. It has no advertising, no opinion columns — nothing but facts and analysis.
But last month, it fell short of educating its readers. Not because the staff didn’t do their job. They did. Sadly, the governor’s office stopped publication of a story it did not like.
The October issue of Trends had been scheduled to include an article about teacher pay in Alaska, pointing out that in 1980 Alaska teachers’ average wage was No. 1 in the nation, but by 2022 had fallen to No. 10.
The headline of the canceled article was: “Teachers’ shrinking wage advantage: Alaska used to pay the most, but now we’re tenth.” There were no political words in the headline, no misleading social media links, no agenda, just reality — which apparently bothered the governor’s office enough to call a halt to publishing the news.
This from the same Dunleavy administration that in June vetoed half of a legislative appropriation to provide a one-year boost in state funding for public schools.
There has not been a permanent increase in the state funding formula for schools in seven years, likely contributing to the stagnant wages and Alaska’s drop in the national rankings. While the governor talks about his support for public education, he hasn’t done much of anything to help school districts, teachers and students. Don’t forget that he also vetoed most of the money appropriated by legislators for school repairs over the past three years.
To veto school money and then block Alaskans from learning about what could be one of the ongoing consequences of underfunding is dishonest, manipulative and denial-based governing. The governor deserves a failing grade on this one.
Larry Persily is a longtime Alaska journalist, with breaks for federal, state and municipal public policy work in Alaska and Washington, D.C. He lives in Anchorage and is publisher of the Wrangell Sentinel weekly newspaper in Alaska.
The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to firstname.lastname@example.org or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.