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Governor cancels Kenai Peninsula town halls

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Jenny Neyman/KDLL
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Gov. Mike Dunleavy canceled four public appearances scheduled on the Kenai Peninsula this week.

The governor was slated to speak at a joint Kenai-Soldotna Chamber of Commerce meeting at noon Monday, followed by town hall meetings in Kenai tonight, Seward Tuesday night and Homer Wednesday night.

The governor canceled the appearances late Monday morning, citing a need to monitor the coronavirus situation. Dunleavy spoke to the chamber audience via phone for about 10 minutes.

Obviously we were looking forward to this trip. We ended up on a phone call with the vice president and his team this morning that didn’t end until 9:30 dealing with the coronavirus. But then we had to deal with meetings after that to kind of work through some of those issues,” Dunleavy said.

The governor said that, as of Monday, 23 people have been tested in Alaska for the coronavirus and all have come up negative.

I want to say that we’re all working together in the Legislature and in the administration to lock arms as Alaskans to make sure that we provide the best possible health care for Alaskans through this process and provide for the safety of Alaskans,” he said.

He said he’s also keeping an eye on impacts to the economy. Alaska is scheduled to get 37 cruise ships this season and Dunleavy said the state is working with the industry to find out their safety, testing and mitigation protocols.

“So we want to ensure Alaskans that their health is first and foremost in Alaska and also at these ports that some of these passengers may be getting off,” Dunleavy said.

On oil prices, the governor said he thinks the impacts of a Russian-Saudi oil price war will be temporary and that long-term investment in Alaska oil is still on track. The stock market is also taking a hit from coronavirus fears and the oil price war, which has potentially dire consequences for the Alaska Permanent Fund.

“We have very good people in the Permanent Fund that are watching that very carefully and trading accordingly. So I would anticipate, although we may see a temporary dip in income, we’ve got people that are poised to make sure that when this turns around, and it could turn around any day, that we are poised to capitalize on that, as well,” Dunleavy said.

Dunleavy cautions a calm response to the virus outbreak and its effects on the economy.

“Many of these issues are temporary issues. And I, for one, am pretty bullish on Alaska. I would hope that you would be too. There’s no reason for anybody to panic about any of these situations. We just watch them and we deal with them,” he said.

Dave Stieren, community outreach manager for the governor and former conservative talk-radio host in Anchorage, spoke in Dunleavy’s stead at the chamber meeting. He was the one to announce the town halls were canceled.

“I wouldn’t want to kind of sort of have people show up expecting one thing and getting me,” Stieren said. “… Seward and Homer will be off just because the vice president calls because there’s an update now you’re last-minuting everything else and that’s not fair to people. Their time is important.”

 

Stieren said the town halls are an effort to reconnect the governor with Alaskans.

“One of the things that the governor really wants to do, and he did — I’ll cover up my pledge pin — didn’t do a very good job when I was still on the radio, was going across the state and meeting with people, talking with people. Some odd reason — curtain, walls, whatever you want to call it, went up (and) he was cut off from the very folks who he would interact with on a regular basis either as a state senator or as a candidate. This is a course correction to reengage with folks,” Stieren said.

Dunleavy announced in December a series of town halls across the state to talk with Alaskans. He held a meeting in Chugiak last week. His office canceled meetings in Petersburg and Wrangell last month, citing weather.

Stieren said the governor plans to reschedule his Kenai Peninsula visit but did not announce when that would be.

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