OPINION: Mike Dunleavy failed to act on rape kits as a senator. Now he’s distorting his record

By Senator Berta Gardner

Anchorage Daily News, September 1

For 14 years, I represented my neighborhood of Midtown Anchorage in the Alaska House and Senate. Serving as a lawmaker, including a stint as the leader of the Senate Democrats, was the honor of a lifetime. This work also provided me with the opportunity to work alongside four governors and many legislators.

One of the legislators I worked with was Mike Dunleavy, our current governor. I worked alongside Dunleavy on multiple committees, including the Senate Education Committee. While it is tempting to write about his years of opposition to my efforts to stabilize education funding and improve benefits for teachers and other public workers, I am writing today to address some unfortunate and inaccurate attacks from his campaign. Dunleavy is making the unthinkable decision of politicizing the suffering of rape victims, who for many years were re-victimized by the state’s mismanagement of evidence collected after a sexual assault occurs to ensure a perpetrator be held legally accountable.

My work to address a backlog of untested rape kits held in the Alaska State Crime Laboratory began in February 2015, when I filed Senate Bill 54 to measure the scope of the issue. Years of neglect didn’t become apparent until we in the Legislature started asking questions. Dunleavy recently stated that Gov. Bill Walker left thousands of rape kits untested when he left office. The public record proves this is wildly misleading — but Dunleavy would know that, because he was right there alongside me serving as a senator when we brought up the issue.

My office worked to move the bill mandating that rape kits be tested, but we were unable to get traction in the Senate. Dunleavy, a member of the majority who was serving on the powerful Senate Finance Committee at that time, did nothing to help get the bill passed when he easily could have done so.

Though the bill died that year, then-Gov. Bill Walker picked up the issue and ordered an inventory of untested rape kits, calling the issue “a top priority.” Additionally, with his support, his Department of Public Safety applied for and received a $1.1 million grant to speed up the count process and continue the work.

Three years later, in 2018, Gov. Walker signed House Bill 31, mandating that rape kits be tested, and he signed a capital budget that allocated $2.75 million for the effort. Despite the Legislature’s inability to pass common-sense legislation earlier, including Mike Dunleavy’s inaction, Bill Walker acted to support victimized Alaskans.

The record is crystal clear: Bill Walker was prioritizing work on addressing untested rape kits long before it was politically expedient for him to do so. Dunleavy’s decision to politicize such an important subject and attempt to take credit for something he refused to do, while simultaneously forgetting the historical record and his own failure to act, reflects a sad state of affairs in politics. It is cold comfort that Dunleavy has a newfound concern for the plight of rape victims whose forensic tests have never been processed, allowing the perpetrators to remain free. Where was he when we were trying to require and enforce timelines on testing rape kits? Who is he now to use this issue as an attack?

Today, Alaskans should remember that Bill Walker is the kind of governor who makes the decisions based on what is right for Alaska, not just right for his political future. This is why he has my enthusiastic support and my vote. Join us in electing a governor who will put aside the partisanship infecting our politics and get the hard work done.

Berta Gardner is a Democrat who served in the Alaska Legislature from 2005-2019, rising to the rank of Senate Minority Leader in her last four years in office.