U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan returned Thursday to Juneau, where he once held two cabinet positions under former Gov. Sean Parnell, delivering his fifth annual speech to state lawmakers.

He implored lawmakers to remain optimistic, even as they face a $1.6 billion budget deficit and wrestle with massive cuts proposed in Gov. Mike Dunleavy's budget.

But Sullivan, a former Alaska attorney general and natural resources commissioner, really held his audience when he discussed domestic violence and sexual assault.

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Sullivan says it’s time to bring back a campaign similar to Parnell's "Choose Respect" initiative, raising awareness of domestic violence and sexual assault. On top of that, he wants the initiative to go national.

“I think it’s time for this body – and certainly we are going to take it to Congress – to re-energize this effort,” he told the crowd who responded with brief applause. “We have many social problems in our state, but I count domestic violence and sexual abuse to be the most pernicious.”

Sullivan served under Parnell when he established the campaign, most noted for statewide mid-March walks joined by members of his administration.

The program, however, couldn’t be sustained under former Gov. Bill Walker, who faced massive budget cut decisions and chronically low oil prices his predecessor did not.

“Women make up roughly than half of our state and statistic show that more than half of them have experienced some kind of abuse," Sullivan said. "That’s a quarter of the population of the state of Alaska. These are our sisters, and our mothers and our spouses and our aunts and our daughter. These are our neighbors and friends. These are members of our staff, maybe even some members of this body.

“Like an opioid epidemic, this is an issue that affects all of us, all races, all income levels, all ages, all corners of the state. It saps our creative energy and leaves deep, permanent scars across generations. We have such tremendous potential as a state but we simply cannot realize it if we don’t stop this, the men of Alaska don’t stop this.”

Sullivan said he would propose legislation in the coming weeks, under which "Choose Respect" would serve as a template for a national initiative.

“Think of this fact,” he said. “If you’re a perpetrator—a rapist, a stalker—and you’re charged. Guess what? You get a lawyer, paid for by the government.”

Afterward, Sullivan met with the media, who asked him about the recent announcement regarding a draft environmental impact study released for the proposed Pebble Mine.

On March 1, a 90-public comment period begins. Critics of the mind say it’s too soon and 90 days is not enough time to review a document several thousand pages long.

“My first reaction, and we will weigh in, is that 90 days for a document of this size, magnitude and importance, it’s too short,” he said.

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