Former Labor Commissioner Heidi Drygas was in Sitka for the Alaska Travel Industry Association conference last week. Drygas is running on a ticket with former Governor Bill Walker, and if elected would serve as Lieutenant Governor. She spoke with KCAW in an interview on October 11.
Heidi Drygas was born and raised in Fairbanks– she graduated from UAF with a history degree, and only left the state for a while because there are no law schools in Alaska.
“So I left for three years, and then I came right back, because I always knew I wanted to live here. This is home. It’s always been home,” she says.
She worked at first as an attorney in private practice in Anchorage, then as general counsel to the Alaska District Council of Laborers for around a decade. In 2014, Governor Bill Walker named Drygas as his Commissioner of Labor. So while this is the first time she’s run for public office, Drygas says her four years of cabinet-level experience give her unique insight.
“I think right now, it’s almost hard to unpack what has been happening with Alaska’s workforce,” Drygas says. “We’ve lost I think, 20,000 to 25,000 working age Alaskans in the last three years who have just left the state for whatever reason…they couldn’t find housing or they couldn’t find a stable job.”
Drygas says that if she’s elected as Alaska Lieutenant Governor, she hopes to shine a light on issues many Alaska communities are facing, like access to affordable housing and childcare. She references the Sitka Community Land Trust as a model for the state.
“I think its a terrific model. We spoke to some folks in the Rasmuson Foundation, who, I wasn’t aware, that Alaska is one of only three states without a housing trust. And they have some terrific information about what that may do…to create more affordable housing in Alaska. So that’s certainly something that we would look at.”
One state institution that’s struggled to keep employees on board in recent months is the Alaska Marine Highway. Raised in the interior, Drygas says she didn’t know a whole lot about the marine highway system growing up, until she met her husband, Kevin Sund, who grew up in Ketchikan and worked on the ferries. Now, having lived in Juneau for the last 7 years, she’s come to love the ferry system.
“Both Bill [Walker] and I want to restore the marine highway system to its former glory, and that takes real responsible leadership that is laser focused on the needs of Southeast, Alaska,” Drygas says.
She says the bipartisan infrastructure bill presents a unique opportunity for ferry funding.
“The millions and millions of dollars in funding that is essentially earmarked for the Marine Highway, due in large part to the dogged focus of Senator Murkowski to make sure that Alaska got its share of the funds, because the Marine Highway really does need an investment,” says Drygas.
She says it would be better served as a standalone entity, and if she could “wave a magic wand” she’d create an endowment for the marine highway so it gets out from under the annual budgeting cycle.
Drygas and Walker are both opposed to a constitutional convention. But they differ on reproductive rights. In an opinion piece the pair wrote for the ADN over the summer, Walker identifies as “personally pro-life” and Drygas as “pro-choice.” But Drygas says a Walker administration would be committed to keeping the right to privacy in Alaska’s constitution.
“And the Alaska Supreme Court has been very clear in three different cases, that the right to privacy includes the right to…reproductive privacy, and the right to abortion access,” Drygas says. “Bill Walker and I respect that decision, and would make sure that women’s reproductive rights are protected in our administration. And, you know, Bill, has said this repeatedly, that he would veto any legislation that got between a woman and her doctor.”
The first-time candidate says if someone else had asked her to be their running mate, she probably wouldn’t have said yes. She respects the partnership that Walker had with his long-time lieutenant governor, the late Byron Mallot.
“One of the reasons I agreed to do it is not just because I believe in Bill Walker and the kind of collaborative and compassionate leadership that he provides. But also the relationship that he had with his Lieutenant Governors…very collaborative,” Drygas says. “To Bill, you know, before making any big decisions, he said ‘I want you to be the last person I talk to, and I wouldn’t want to lead any other way.'”
Heidi Drygas is running to serve as Alaska’s Lieutenant Governor with Bill Walker, who is hoping to reclaim the governor’s office. Election day is Tuesday November 8.