Mead Treadwell is trying to make up ground in the race to win the Aug. 21 primary to become the Republican candidate for governor.
When Treadwell says why he should be governor, the former lieutenant governor talked about the sheer range of issues he’s faced in business and government.
“You need a candidate with experience to be your governor,” he said. “The odds are very strong that the Republicans are going to win this race. The Democrats and Bill Walker are, you know, going to be dividing up the left. And I want the Republicans to put forward a strong candidate who has actually worked on Alaska’s economy all over the state.”
Treadwell is 62 years old. He grew up in Connecticut.
Treadwell said his father was admirable in many ways, but that he abused alcohol.
“I came from a family, which had a great dad when he was sober,” he said. “He was mayor of our town. He had actually just cut the ribbon on a fire department the day before our house burned down and the fire department was pulling him out. He died in that fire and the rest of us got out.”
He came to Alaska with his grandmother in 1974, and served on Walter Hickel’s unsuccessful campaign for governor four years later. He spent most of the 1980s working for a company trying to develop the Asian market for Alaska’s natural gas. After Hickel was elected governor in 1990, Treadwell joined the administration as deputy commissioner for the Department of Environmental Conservation.
He has three children who he largely raised on his own after his first wife Carol died from brain cancer.
“When she died, she left me a kindergartner, a first-grader, a fifth-grader and a minivan,” Treadwell said. “And I drove that minivan to scouts and to volleyball and to the ski hill. And had we not been able to come together as a family and spend those weekends, every weekend at the cabin, I’m not sure we would have survived.”
Treadwell remarried, to Virginia McClure.
Hickel remains a powerful influence on Treadwell. Hickel told Treadwell near his death in 2010 to continue the state’s longtime fight for more control over its land.
“Another thing he said is: ‘Stay free,’” Treadwell said. “We engraved it on his gravestone where he was buried standing up, so he didn’t have to get up to fight, he said. But the main thing about ‘stay free’ is this: Don’t be set with conflicts. And make sure that you have your principles, but be creative enough in your thinking and pragmatic enough in your thinking to get things done.”
His business experience included work with an investment firm he started with his friend John Wanamaker and two others. Wanamaker credits Treadwell’s persistence with the success of some of the companies they invested in. They include Immersive Media, which developed the 360-degree cameras later used for Google Street View.
“The reason why we got there is my buddy just kept beating that horse,” Wanamaker said. “We just kept working it and working it and working it when, you know, some of us thought, ‘Hey, maybe it’s a cool technology, but there’s no application.”
Treadwell’s campaign website doesn’t lay out many specific policy proposals. He does say he supports setting permanent fund dividends at the full amount under the formula used until 2016. Treadwell hasn’t spelled out how he would pay for it. He says he would look to lower the cost of state government while improving what he calls government’s “outputs,” in areas like high school graduation rates and the rate that prisoners commit new crimes.
“I’m not going to tell you a division I’m going to eliminate or anything else,” he said. “I’m going to make sure that we look at outputs as well as inputs.”
He noted his experience with Street View and another business that provided anti-piracy technology for films.
“We could be attracting those kind of companies here,” he said.
He said he would look for opportunities to develop manufacturing and other industries that would add value to the state’s natural resources.
“I’m wearing a belt that’s made out of salmon leather right now,” he said. “We’ve got to be ferocious in bringing jobs back to the state.”
Treadwell’s immediate rival is former state Sen. Mike Dunleavy. The senator’s brother and others have bankrolled a group backing Dunleavy.
“I don’t see a problem with Mike Dunleavy having the capability to get elected,” Treadwell said. “I do see a problem with Alaska having a governor who doesn’t have a whole lot of experience. And there was what I’ll call checkbook deterrence to others who wanted to get into the race … I finally decided that I’m going to go up against this paper tiger and I won’t have as much money. But I’ve started companies where we didn’t have as much money as somebody else and we made things happen.”
Treadwell said he’s gaining support from Republicans, as well as from undeclared and nonpartisan voters.