After a mildly contentious mayoral race in the Last Frontier State, voters went to the polls this month in the city of Ketchikan to elect a new leader. Three candidates were involved in this much watched campaign, but in the end, it was lifelong Alaskan Rodney Dial who was victorious.
Mayor Dial has entered his new position with a fervor unrivaled by his predecessors, fully conscious of the slings and arrows aimed in his direction where Conservative values are rare qualities in local government.
Born in Anchorage, Dial spent his entire adult life serving both his country and his state. He graduated from high school early and joined the US Army. Shortly after, he was recruited into the Army Ranger program and graduated before being deployed overseas, participating in joint operations with the Contra rebels in Honduras.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Dial was hired in 1990 as an Alaska State Trooper and stationed in Fairbanks. He recalled spending a good part of his youth following his Trooper dad around to remote locations. In 1991, he transferred to Ketchikan and stayed until 1994, when he was transferred to Talkeetna.
According to Must Read Alaska:
“In 1998 he was promoted to Post Commander of the Glennallen Trooper Post. In 2001, he became one of the youngest individuals in Trooper history to be promoted to a Command Level Position. He was assigned to Anchorage and later in the Aleutians and North Slope. In 2004, he requested reassignment in Ketchikan.”
I was lucky enough to be able to vote for Mr. Dial back in 2016 when he was running for Assembly Board Member. At the time, he ran on holding the line on new taxes and government spending and appeared to be a big advocate for Conservative-minded values.
As he ran for mayor, he was proud to have personally financed his entire campaign and made every effort to stay true to a promise not to take large donations from special interest groups, ensuring that his intentions for being in the mayor’s office in the first place was purely to make Ketchikan an even better place to live and work.
I had the opportunity to interview Mr. Dial a few days ago and present the full Q&A here:
MAYOR RODNEY DIAL INTERVIEW (OCTOBER 2019)
DILLINGER: Thanks so much, Rodney, for accepting my request for an interview. One of the things that we, as voters, are really in the dark about is the process by which someone in your position actually takes office. In other words, is there an actual “transition” process by which you are ushered into your new position and are given a genuine send-off by the now former Mayor?
DIAL: When a borough election occurs, the last Assembly Mayor will hold a meeting to verify-approve the election results and swear in the newly elected officials. Control will be transferred to the new Assembly Mayor and they will convene the first official meeting.
DILLINGER: In your opinion, what is your greatest political achievement thus far and why?
DIAL: My greatest political achievement so far is developing a plan to elevate borough advocacy issues to the White House. The Borough has advocacy issues, approved by the Assembly, that are the “asks” of the community. Items such as full funding for PILT/SRS*, end of the roadless rule, etc. In the past the borough would elevate these issues to the Congressional delegation in DC. Unfortunately, the borough was making little progress in advancing these issues. By “going above their heads” directly to the White House, we brought a new focus and urgency to addressing our advocacy issues. This was enormously successful and helped spur changes that resolved some of our more difficult concerns and helped us make progress on others. We’re currently building upon that momentum.
*Federal payments to local governments provided through the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act (SRS) and Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) Program
DILLINGER: You are now the Mayor of one of the most visited places in the world. Walk us through your thoughts before taking on a very important job like this.
DIAL: I’m excited for the future of our community. I see us as having the ability to learn from the mistakes of other communities and having the resources to weather the financial storm on the state level. A few months back, I pushed for and was able to get approved, an increase in the sales tax cap that will bolster our budget and extend our reserves. That with economic development should give us the ability to maintain existing tax rates and prevent new expenses from being passed on to the citizens. We’re in a far better position than most Alaskan communities.
DILLINGER: What is it about Ketchikan, in your view, that is such a draw for those outside and how can you as the mayor of such a recognized place on the globe affect the policies of the state of Alaska, as well as impact those at the federal level?
DIAL: I think too many elected officials are self-limited. Meaning that they will not “try” because they see little chance of success. This is why the borough never elevated issues to the White House before, in my opinion. On Monday, I had a teleconference with our contact in Juneau trying to set up a meeting with the governor. My goal is to work with Governor Dunleavy to advance issues important to the state and our community, rather than oppose the governor…as many communities seem to prefer. I am also pushing for new advocacy issues and an expansion of federal involvement in our community as our borough is 98% Federal land.
DILLINGER: Wow. What do you see as the prime opportunities in Ketchikan that can catapult this city to the next level of prosperity?
DIAL: Economic development and getting our fair share in federal support. With Shelter Cove Road soon reaching completion, there will be a significant increase in the traffic on the back side of the island. This will pull EMS/SAR and other resources out of the city’s “core areas” resulting in a need for increased services to compensate. I believe that this should be a federal responsibility, not a local one, and I have advanced that issue in DC. I was able to gain a commitment from US Forest Service to help, but I’ll be asking for more PILT and SRS payments as well.
"Citizens want government to hold the line on new taxes and keep our community from being even more expensive."
DILLINGER: What can you tell us about your anticipated efforts in the realm of combatting the high housing costs, homelessness, and drug addiction that remains a very large priority of both the residents and the Assembly Board members?
DIAL: Gentrification is an issue that makes communities like Seattle…places where people of average means used to live…into places that are now only home to either the very wealthy or the very poor. I want to prevent that from happening in Ketchikan. This is one of the reasons I pushed for an increase in the sales tax cap. I knew that if new revenue was not found somewhere, the default was always going to be a property tax rate increase. Growth in property tax rates, plus the addition of a yearly assessment, have a compounding effect and lead to a dramatic swelling of housing costs over time. Additionally, restrictive and expensive building barriers lead to housing increases as well. To that end, we are holding the line on property taxes, have looked at changing building codes to allow for tiny homes, conducted a housing needs assessment, approved new developments and are working with developers to bring affordable housing on-line. We are doing far better in this area than Sitka and Juneau at the moment.
DILLINGER: You won the election pretty handily on a platform of lower costs, warding off calls for new taxes, transparency and integrity in government officials, as well as many others that were reminiscent of the Trump campaign of 2015-’16. What do you see as the single most significant issue of your platform that was integral in getting you elected?
DIAL: Fiscal responsibility. People have constantly told me that they can tell I do my research and have a firm grasp on the issues. Citizens want government to hold the line on new taxes and keep our community from being even more expensive.
"We got pretty close with this meeting with the Vice President Pence. I was able to briefly speak with him about Ketchikan and thank him for his help, to which he replied, 'More help is coming.'"
DILLINGER: Governor Dunleavy recently opted to take his press releases to an alternate form of videos and documents directly aimed at the residents and freely accessible by anyone who cares to listen and/or read such information to combat blatant bias on the part of the local media. Do you foresee that sort of problem here in Ketchikan and, if so, how will you go about getting your message out directly to the city residents?
DIAL: Our community has a good level of information flow on Facebook and alternative media sites such as SitNews. Ketchikan citizens also seem more informed than most. This sort of bias problem could be an issue in the future; however, I think we are doing all right for the time being.
DILLINGER: If you could name your favorite leader on both the Right and the Left, who would they be and why?
DIAL: Favorite leader on the Right is Trump. I like him because he says what he means and means what he says. Most politicians speak out of both sides of their mouths. Trump is also fulfilling his campaign promises and is placing the country first. My concern is that current politics in America are bigger than most realize. When I look at the divide, it seems to me that one side is trying to negotiate our surrender into a one world government while the other is trying to fight to maintain our sovereignty. Sadly, I don’t have a favorite leader on the Left.
DILLINGER: Rodney, you had an opportunity to meet with Vice President Pence recently in Washington DC, as part of the White House conference on the empowerment of local communities. As I’m sure you’re aware, our president himself has a long history with Alaska, his grandfather having made his fortune here in gold and hotel/restaurants back near the turn of the last century. What can you tell us about that meeting with the vice president?
DIAL: To me, the short meeting with the VP was arranged by God, in response to the many prayers of the citizens of Ketchikan. The goal of our advocacy trips has always been to elevate our issues and community to the top. We got pretty close with this meeting with the Vice President Pence. I was able to briefly speak with him about Ketchikan and thank him for his help, to which he replied, “More help is coming.” The back story behind this encounter was very powerful for me and really strengthened my faith in prayer and the power of God.
DILLINGER: Mayor Dial, thanks so much for your time on our behalf. I know you’re a very busy man. I wish you the best and will keep you and yours in my prayers as well. Keep up the fantastic work for the First City and we’ll be keeping our eye on you. Congratulations again.