Dermot Cole

Gov. Mike Dunleavy continues to practice political distancing, as demonstrated in the dustup over the Anchorage mask mandate implemented by Mayor Ethan Berkowitz to slow the spread of COVID-19.

After state offices closed June 26, Dunleavy sent a message to all state employees in reaction to the decision by Berkowitz.

Dunleavy should have repeated the advice on the state’s website, “We highly recommend that all Alaskans wear a cloth face covering in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.”

Instead, he said, “Thank you for your service, and have a great weekend” and attached a memo from Attorney General Kevin Clarkson.

In the memo, Clarkson that claimed the mask mandate announced earlier that day by Berkowitz “does not apply” on state property.

Clarkson did include any legal references or mention any laws to justify his commandment or explain what prompted him to write it. He didn’t say that Dunleavy ordered it or why there was no official statement to implement the ruling.

It was as if the memo had appeared by magic, had nothing to do with politics and had been handed down by the legal gods from Mt. Juneau.

Clarkson also didn’t mention that the memo contradicted his own advice from one day earlier that home rule cities have the power to govern themselves on mask matters without state interference. He quoted a “thoughtful statement” of the South Carolina AG to that effect.

Dunleavy did not take responsibility for Clarkson’s commandment, acting as if this was entirely the work of his consigliere.

The following day, in a Twitter exchange, Clarkson admitted that this was a Dunleavy decree, not a Clarkson decision.

He said Dunleavy “chose to preempt the mayor’s mandate, but only for state buildings/facilities.”

The news coverage of the Dunleavy decree failed to examine why the governor did not take credit for claiming to override the Anchorage mayor without ever taking official action.

Kate Vogel, the Anchorage municipal attorney, said the decree was based on a misinterpretation of the governor’s powers in dealing with a home rule government. It was state overreach by Dunleavy to pretend municipal rules don’t apply on state property.

“If the municipality were to evacuate an area for fire danger, for example, our evacuation order would not exclude state employees or buildings,” she wrote.

With COVID-19 cases on the rise, the Anchorage mandate makes sense on state property, as well as federal property and private property. Dr. Anne Zink, who has done a great deal to help Dunleavy’s image in recent months, is probably in favor of it.

I suspect she is banned by Dunleavy from expressing an opinion that contradicts his, however.

On Monday, Jeff Turner, the publicity man for Dunleavy, tried to recast what happened with the “have a great weekend” message sent by Dunleavy Friday.

“The memo was drafted at the request of the governor,” Turner told KTVA. “In this case, the governor decided to preempt the municipal mandatory mask mandate for state buildings and facilities in the Municipality of Anchorage.”

Left unsaid was why the governor failed to reveal any of that Friday or take any official action to actually implement his decree. Two words—political distancing.

Dermot Cole can be reached at

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