Dermot Cole

Dermot Cole

This is no time in Alaska to be handing out leadership awards for dealing with COVID-19 unless the awards go to the doctors, nurses, administrators and support staff at our hospitals and clinics.

They’ve not only had to deal with a deadly pandemic, they’ve also had to confront the disinformation campaign and ignorant attacks that Gov. Mike Dunleavy and many other politicians have done nothing to counteract.

Commonwealth North, an Anchorage-based chamber-of-commerce lookalike, is not giving awards today just to those who deserve them, such as Dr. Anne Zink.

Instead, the group is also giving the Bill Egan Distinguished Alaskan Award to Gov. Mike Dunleavy and health commissioner Adam Crum, saying “leadership is never easy nor always appreciated.” 

An award to Zink is justified—for her tireless work in promoting sane public health policies and speaking to the public. While I have been often frustrated that she never openly disputed the weasel words of Dunleavy and Crum, that would have probably gotten her fired for bucking the company line.

Dunleavy and Crum have failed to provide the leadership Alaska needed to promote vaccinations since last spring, choosing instead to say, “Get a shot if you feel like it,” never risking the ire of the unvaccinated with a clear call to action.


Since mid-summer we’ve had hundreds of unnecessary deaths in Alaska, thousands of unnecessary hospitalizations and hundreds of millions of unnecessary health care expenses. This is no time for COVID-19 award season.

Had Dunleavy and Crum been aggressive in pushing vaccines, masks and social distancing, some of the hundreds who died needlessly could have been saved. Not all, but some.

And some of the thousands who were hospitalized could have escaped that fate and our hospitals might not have been stretched to the limit, making life in Alaska more dangerous for anyone needing health care for any reason.

By themselves, Dunleavy and Crum could not have cut through the disinformation barrage and reached all of the obstinate, but they failed to even try, endlessly portraying vaccines as a matter of personal choice and freedom, not an essential and safe tool that it is dangerous to reject. They stayed on the sidelines where they thought it was politically safe.

It is a disgrace that they would be honored for this neglect.

In a  campaign press release printed by some Alaska newspapers as a guest opinion, Dunleavy claims that he has done more than enough on masks and vaccines.

According to Dunleavy, “we have all heard the words from the naysayers and detractors: It’s not enough. ‘Enough’ is a code word for vaccine and mask mandates.”

Crum, on a state-funded podcast aimed at boosting Dunleavy’s reelection, said that Alaskans who have been vaccinated shold “have grace for individuals” who refuse the public health safety measure because this is all about choice. It’s a personal choice that is wreaking havoc in Alaska and ruining lives.

Writing in the Washington Post recently, Zink mentioned how the effort to vaccinate Alaskans stalled and we paid a high price.

“Hesitancy and misinformation made many people underestimate the risk of covid-19 infections and overestimate the risk from the coronavirus vaccines,” Zink said.

“With little natural immunity from previous COVID-19 surges, relatively low vaccination rates and a population weary of mitigation measures — and with temperatures falling and indoor gatherings increasing — Alaska was overrun by the delta variant,” she said.

‘Hesitancy and misinformation made many people underestimate the risk of COVID-19 infections and overestimate the risk from the coronavirus vaccines,” Zink wrote.

Giving the Egan award to the governor and his health commissioner is an insult to those who really deserve recognition. All the speeches at the awards ceremony today will include a nod to the thousands who have provided real leadership, but they aren’t getting the Bill Egan Distinguished Alaskan Award, that’s reserved for Dunleavy, Crum and Zink.

The board of Commonwealth North features several members politically tied to Dunleavy and others who want to be on his good side. That’s what this is all about.


In a Commonwealth letter signed by Scott Jepsen, a former ConocoPhillips VP, and by Preston Simmons, chief executive of Providence, they claimed that “continuing even today, our state leadership provided calm, clear and evenhanded implementation of public health policy,” forgetting to mention the personal tragedies that could have been stopped with more vaccinations. This omission by Jepsen and Simmons is pure pandering.


Jepsen, president of Commonwealth North, was appointed by Dunleavy to the University of Alaska Board of Regents last spring.


The group said in its event announcement that “Despite the ongoing challenges, Alaska continues to have one of the lowest per capita rate of mortalities in the nation.” Similar words are in every Dunleavy press release.


This treats the hundreds of needless deaths and thousands of needless hospitalizations that followed the widespread availability of vaccines as unavoidable occurrences beyond anyone’s control. The governor and his health commissioner refused to lead on vaccines.


The board members of Commonwealth North are: Scott Jepsen, Isaac Vanderburg, Terry Smith, Nils Andreassen, Larry Baker, Tom Barrett, Ryan Binkley, Moire Bockenstedt, Jason Evans, Cheryl Frasca, Cathy Giessel, Kris Knauss, Joe Mathis, Becky Windt Pearson, Craig Richards, Gail Schubert, Preston Simmons, Bernie Smith, Ralph Townsend, Rev. Leo Walsh, Mary Ann Pease and Eric Wohlforth.

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