As a teenager growing up in Alaska, my high school social studies classes are full of examples of inspiring leaders. I’ve learned that people become politicians for many reasons, and the best we can hope for from leaders of any party is that they’re running for office to help make people’s lives better.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t appear to describe Mike Dunleavy, candidate for Governor and resigned State Senator, who has dedicated his career to restricting health care options and limiting access to sexual health education for teenagers.
For much of his time in the State Senate, Mike Dunleavy was on a mission to impose his unique ideological views of sexual health on Alaska teens, making a name for himself through his constant efforts to reduce and restrict sexual health education in schools.
In bill after bill, he sought to prohibit abortion providers from providing sex education in public schools—a thinly veiled attack on Planned Parenthood, a health care provider he once compared to the Ku Klux Klan in a Senate hearing.
His efforts failed initially, largely due to overwhelming opposition from local school leaders across the state. School leaders, parents, and teachers gave the bill a ‘no’— but Dunleavy did not stop. What followed over the next year was a bizarre and single-minded crusade from Dunleavy to block parents and teachers from making sex education decisions for their own communities. Laser focused, he added amendments to any education bill he could find— even as Alaska’s rates of sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancy remained significantly above the national average.
According to recent data from the Department of Health and Social services, you are more likely to get an STD in Alaska than any other state. Dunleavy responded to this by restricting access to the very education shown to reduce this crisis.
In a stunning display of desperation, he went so far as to hijack and politicize Bree’s Law, much-needed legislation that was originally intended to help bring sexual assault and teen dating violence awareness and prevention education to all Alaska students. As a state that routinely leads the nation in reported instances of rape and child sexual assault, we have an obligation to equip our youth with the education they need to protect themselves. Dunleavy continued his pattern, adding an anti-Planned Parenthood amendment to the bill. This drew ire from the parents of Bree Moore—the murdered teen for whom the bill was named—who said the stunt “totally killed the opportunity for this bill to pass.” Through his actions, Dunleavy made it clear to all Alaskans that the health and well-being of our state is secondary to his ideological opposition to sexual health and rights.
Dunleavy’s dogged focus on teenage sexual health ultimately worked – in 2016, he successfully attached the language to a must-pass bill and, to the detriment of Alaskan children and families, succeeded in pushing it into law.
He even bragged that he had stayed up most of the night before to devise a new way to move his ideology forward. As a teenager looking for inspiration in politics, it is concerning and disheartening to see a politician staying up all night brainstorming ways to limit teenagers’ access to their own education.
In this move, Dunleavy targeted all sexual health education providers, including doctors and medical professionals who volunteer their time to help educate youth who would otherwise not have access to a trusted professional. These experts are now required to navigate a burdensome and unnecessary process simply to address the public health crisis.
As a peer sexual health educator in Anchorage, I know firsthand the danger and short sidedness of this approach. Teens need access to more information, not less, to make informed decisions about their health. It matters that we receive quality sex education because at some point in our lives, knowledge about abstinence and birth control, STIs, and consent is not only going to be beneficial, it’s necessary. Our state is currently facing both STI and sexual assault crises— Dunleavy’s strategy seems to be to ignore them. Mike Dunleavy’s actions as Senator has only led to more young adults making uninformed and unsafe decisions about their bodies and relationships.
I oppose Mike Dunleavy for Governor for these reasons and more. We need a Governor who will enthusiastically support teenagers everywhere in Alaska accessing the knowledge and information they need to make safe and healthy decisions. Now that Gov. Bill Walker has dropped out of the race, we are faced with two very different visions for the future of our state. The only candidate who will be a champion for my generation’s future is Mark Begich. Alaska deserves better than Mike Dunleavy.
About the Author:
Natalie is a student at West Anchorage High School. She is passionate about mental health, peer education, and empowering young people to speak up about the things they care about. When not doing homework or writing op-eds, she likes to rollerblade, walk her dog, and travel.