As Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy delivered his first State of the State address Tuesday evening, he renewed public safety promises to Alaskans while delivering staunch warnings to anyone committing crimes.  

"We're going to declare war on criminals," he said, reiterating one of his campaign commitments. 

The statement was met with applause. 

Dunleavy doubled down on the get-tough stance on crime he's pushed for months. As he campaigned last year to replace then-Gov. Bill Walker, Dunleavy vowed to turn the tide on public safety and promised a full repeal of the remaining components of Senate Bill 91, Alaska's controversial crime reform law. 

"And I say to you, and to everyone, today begins a new day in our state," Dunleavy said. "From this day forward, we will not cater to the criminals and ignore the victims. We will not make excuses and turn a blind eye." 

He cited Alaska's crime rates, pointing to anecdotal evidence, then citing statistics. 

"Everyone in this room has either been affected by crime or knows someone who has," Dunleavy said. "And when it comes to sexual assault, Alaska stands alone. Our sexual assault rate is the highest in the nation." 

Dunleavy then said New York City's sexual assault rate is 28 incidences per 100,000 people, compared to Anchorage's rate, which he said is 132 assaults per 100,000 people. 

"That’s almost five times that of New York City. Let that sink in," he said. 

Dunleavy described Alaska's standing in sexual assault rates as "an outrage" and the murder rate as "horrific." He said the government has an obligation to keep Alaskans safe. 

"We can no longer stand by and allow this to be the reality that faces Alaskans every day," he said. 

Dunleavy announced the following planned public safety actions: 

  • "We will expend the necessary resources for additional State Troopers, provide more local control, and more prosecutors.
  • We will ensure that our courts will remain open five full days a week in order to hear cases.
  • We will provide the focus and the resources necessary to combat the scourge of opiates and other illicit drugs driving up our crime rates and ruining lives.
  • And we will repeal and replace SB 91. A series of bills and initiatives to be introduced tomorrow will not only roll back SB91, but will help Alaska turn the corner to a safer tomorrow." 

The governor then called on his colleagues in the House and Senate to work with him. 

"To our legislators, I’m asking you to make public safety a priority and move forward with due diligence on reviewing and considering this public safety package," he said. 

Dunleavy then directed statements toward law-abiding Alaskans, criminals, and addicts: 

"To law-abiding Alaskans, I say this to you: I care if your house is burglarized. I care if your car is stolen. And I care if your loved ones are threatened.

But to the criminals, and to the rapists and molesters who see women and children as nothing more than opportunities, I say this to you: We will do everything in our power to stop you, apprehend you, and put you in prison for a very long time.

For those Alaskans who have made a mistake and have gotten involved with opiates or other drugs and want help, we are a compassionate people as well. Therefore, as part of our public safety approach we will provide ways for you to break this habit and get back into society and be productive individuals." 

With a still gridlocked House, it's unclear what level of difficulty Dunleavy will face in fulfilling his promise to repeal SB 91. 

"We're all sitting on pins and needles," Senate Judiciary Chair Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, said in a previous interview.

Hughes is paying particularly close attention to who chairs the House Judiciary Committee. 

"If we have a chairman or chairwoman who is resistant to the repeal and the replacement that is desperately needed to reverse the crime trend, it's going to be very difficult," Hughes said. "If we have someone that's willing to work with us on these matters, I believe we can get a lot done this first session." 

In the House, Anchorage Democrat Rep. Andy Josephson agrees with Hughes that committee chairs are a critical piece of the puzzle

"There are certainly supporters of full repeal, but then there were supporters of full repeal in the Fall of 2017 and it was not repealed. In fact, efforts to repeal it in full were not narrowly defeated, they were pretty soundly defeated. So we'll have to see what comes," Josephson said earlier this month. 

Immediately after the speech, Alaska House Coalition members responded. 

“What I heard tonight from Governor Dunleavy was that we share a commitment to safer communities and better schools. We just disagree on how to make it happen," said Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage. "I am committed to protecting our investments in education and public safety. I don’t want to see those core functions of government be further eroded by unsustainable budget cuts brought on by the falling price of oil. As Alaskans, we have some monumental challenges facing us, but we can overcome those challenges through hard work and a commitment to always doing what’s best for the people of Alaska.”

Senate Democrats also issued a response. 

"For our state to truly address crime, support a strong education system, maintain the health of our citizens, and create hope and opportunity, we need a budget that meets our constitutional obligations. I hope his does," said Sen. Tom Begich, D-Anchorage. 

Dunleavy, who has promised to fund full Permanent Fund dividend checks while slashing budgets, said his public safety priorities will be reflected in his budget. 

"With SB 91, we broke the people’s trust and now is the time to restore it," he said. "By doing the right things, we can fix what is broken and restore the trust that was lost." 

The families of victims in two high-profile murder cases were invited as special guests of the governor Tuesday evening. 

Scotty and Aaliyah Barr, the father and sister of 10-year-old murder victim Ashley Johnson-Barr, were present. Ashley went missing on Sept. 6. Searchers found her body on Sept. 14. An autopsy revealed "signs of trauma that include strangulation and sexual abuse," according to a statement released by the Department of Law. 

A Kotzebue man is facing several state charges including murder, kidnapping, and sexual abuse of a minor, as well as federal charges of lying to the FBI.   

Scotty and Aaliyah Barr of Kotzebue are the father and sister of 10-year-old Ashley Johnson-Barr of Kotzebue, who was murdered in September 2018. (From: Gov. Mike Dunleavy's Office)

"One missing child is too much," Scotty Barr said to reporters following the address, "So we need to make a stand now and fight hard and make a statement and make our State of Alaska better for the future." 

Edie and Ben Grundwald were also invited, but couldn't attend due to weather.

The couple are the parents of David Grunwald, a Palmer teen killed at the hands of his peers. David went missing on Nov. 13, 2016. According to prosecutors, he was beaten, kidnapped and murdered. Investigators found his body on Dec. 2, 2016. In 2018, separate juries found two teen suspects guilty of all counts charged, including first-degree murder. Two more suspects have yet to stand trial. 

Edie Grunwald ran in the Republican primary for lieutenant governor on a platform of criminal justice reform. She was defeated by Anchorage state Sen. Kevin Meyer, who went on to become Dunleavy's successful running mate.

Recently, Gov. Dunleavy selected her as the next chair of the State Parole Board

The governor has touted a comprehensive crime plan for months. He said he will introduce public safety bills and initiatives on Wednesday. 

"But let me be perfectly clear," Dunleavy warned, "if you are a criminal, this is going to be a very dangerous place for you, starting now. I strongly suggest you get out while you can. No more coddling, no more excuses. Your days are over."

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