• Alaska’s new Lt. Gov. comes with plethora of background in arctic science, high tech digital mapware, oil and gas expertise
By Naomi Klouda
On a cold, rainy October evening, candidate for lieutenant governor, Mead Treadwell landed a tad late. A week before voters were due at the polls, he was in Homer and Anchor Point to meet with constituents who likely hadn’t heard his name or seen his face prior to his run for office.
Homer resident Stanley Welles, appointed “area captain” for the Gov. Sean Parnell/Treadwell campaign, met him at the Homer Airport. “That was the first time I had met him,” Welles said. “I didn’t know Mead prior to that other than through his resume and bio. He has a technical background like me, and I was impressed with the industries he has been involved with as an entrepreneur.”
On the drive to Anchor Point, Treadwell’s first public stop, he recalled a sizable Russian community lived nearby and asked Welles about the possibility of stopping in. “It reflects to his character that he was interested in meeting with them as part of getting to know the Alaska community. He’s very people-oriented and interested,” Welles said. But a wedding going on in the village that night and limited public facilities meant that an impromptu drop-in might not be the best way.
Welles then got on the phone and called a tax accountant who does the books for several commercial fishing families in the Russian villages. “I asked her if she could contact folks and invite them to Anchor Point Inn or the Bidarka in Homer, and she said she could do that.”
Mixed in with Republican party faithful, then, came more than a dozen people from the remote villages.
And so began Treadwell’s Homer-Anchor Point visit, far under the radar of big profile happenings like the U.S. Senate race that dominated elections, but indicative of Treadwell as a vociferous learner. As a teenager, his curiosity brought him to the attention of Alaska’s senior statesman, Ernest Gruening, who in the spring of 1974, gave a talk at Treadwell’s Hotchkiss High School of Lakeville, Conn. Gruening had graduated from the private school in 1903. After the talk, the teenager was invited to eat dinner with Gruening. “I told him I was on my way that summer for a visit to Alaska,” Treadwell recalled. What should he see?
“Young man, Alaska is 365 million acres. That’s 1 million acres for every day of the year,” Treadwell quotes of Gruening. Lacking funds and discouraged of seeing much in the state, Treadwell made plans to stay for the summer and seek a job.
On his way up with his grandmother and brother, Treadwell said he read Walter Hickel’s book “Who Owns American?” on the ferry. When he arrived in Anchorage, job prospects fallen through, he took a chance to knock on Hickel’s door and ask for a job. Hickel set him up as a bus boy in his Captain Cook Hotel, but apparently also impressed with Treadwell’s academic background, assigned him to research the 200-mile limit. Treadwell said he still has the notes somewhere in his garage.
In 1977, while in his last year at Yale University, Hickel thought so much of his bright young find that he brought him back to Alaska to work as his gubernatorial campaign press secretary.
What kind of lieutenant
It’s normal for an Alaska lieutenant governor to be shuttered from the limelight, given the official task as overseer of elections and the Alaska Constitution. Yet, as Gov. Sean Parnell found when then-Gov. Sarah Palin resigned, no guarantees come with the job title.
“Before deciding to run, I sat down with each Republican governor candidate and asked them how they envision the role of their lieutenant governor,” Treadwell said on his Homer visit. “(Gov.) Sean Parnell answered that he wants someone to help tackle the big problems as well as a lieutenant with statutory strength.”
Describing himself more as a “coach than a commander,” Treadwell says he isn’t interested in sharing Gov. Parnell’s power. “As a coach my job is to bring the people who have the right answers to get things done, to be a convener who brings people together who can solve a problem.”
Treadwell offers a slate of experience for the governor to draw on. After graduating from Yale in 1978, he worked as an investigative reporter for the Anchorage Times covering the Alaska Legislature after Hickel’s unsuccessful bid for governor. After finishing his MBA at Harvard in 1982, Treadwell joined Govs. Hickel and Egan as founder of the Yukon Pacific Corp., which started the All Alaska Gas pipeline project.
Until it was sold to the CSX Corp in 1989, he was Yukon-Pacific’s treasurer and vice president. That year of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill he became the City of Cordova’s director of spill response and helped create both the Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet’s Citizens Advisory Councils, as well as an oil spill recovery institute.
Homer people may recall Treadwell as instrumental in two major developments that came out of the Spill: the state’s buy-back of oil leases in Kachemak Bay and the creation of a state trail system at Grewingk Glacier. By then, Treadwell was head of the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation under Gov. Hickel, and negotiated the buy-back funded with Exxon settlement interest money.
“And it was in Homer I married my lovely wife, Carol,” Treadwell recalled. He credits local resident Mike McBride, owner of Loon’s Song Resort, for bringing them together. They married here in 1990. She died in 2002 of cancer. Treadwell is raising their two sons.
From 1995 until 2010, Treadwell occupied several chairmanships of corporations, starting in 1995 as a founder and officer of Digimark, based out of Portland. From 2003-2010, he served as chairman of Immersive Media Corporation that developed the multi-view camera which Google used for its ‘Street View’ service. This is the same technology MapQuest currently uses for its street imaging in Iraq and Afghanistan wars. He recently resigned as chairman of Venture Ad Astra, an Anchorage investor in geo-spatial and imaging technologies, to enter state office.
While serving as the head of these corporations, Treadwell aslo racked up a decade of expertise on the arctic as commissioner and then chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission. Working with the National Security Council, the State Department and other federal agencies, he helped craft a new United States Arctic Policy which was adopted by President Bush and is now being implemented by President Barack Obama. As Soviet encroachment in the Arctic became known, he called for mapping the Arctic to support new U.S. Claims and wanted better research to understand Arctic ecosystems. Treadwell was also instrumental in securing funding for a new Arctic research vessel for Alaska, an earmark Sen. Ted Stevens won. The ship will be based in Seward.
With his scrutiny on the arctic, Treadwell was positioned to co-author the 2009 Commonwealth North Report, ‘Why the Arctic Matters,’ which focused on the strategic value of Alaska’s energy resources, transportation routes, defense locations, fishing, and scientific work. Which leads to his interest in polar bears.
The state and federal government aren’t in agreement about whether polar bears are more than just “threatened” by thinning ice conditions in the Arctic. Last week, a federal judge ordered Alaska’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to explain why the bears were designated as threatened in 2008 rather than endangered? The deadline for the state’s response is set for Dec. 23. The written order issued Thursday by Judge Emmet Sullivan of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., follows an October hearing on multiple lawsuits challenging the “threatened” listing.
Treadwill is set to be sworn into office on Dec. 6, which means it could be one of the first matters he works on relating to his field of expertise. How will he view this case?
“In the role of convener and coach, I believe I can help respond to the polar bear question,” Treadwell said Friday. “We’re at an incredible historic time in the Arctic. Both man and nature have to adapt to an accessible Arctic Ocean. For Alaska, that raises commercial concerns, environmental concerns, security concerns and opportunities – and everything that happens needs to be based on knowledge.”
On one field trip to Wrangell Island, home to 1/5th of the world’s polar bear population, Treadwell said he found U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologists were relying less on government scientists than on findings by the World Wildlife Fund, a group that slants toward conservation.
“I’m not saying their scientists cook the books, but the U.S. drops the ball on key funding issues,” Treadwell said. He has long argued for better science funding as a way to resolve contradictions in data.
The conclusions drawn by endangerment status, such as limits on development, could be faulty if the science has gaps, he said.
“One thing I pushed for in arctic policy was for stronger government-to-government cooperation with Russia on the arctic to fill data gaps,” he said.
From his long friendship with Hickel, Egan and Hammond, Treadwell comes away with an elaborate philosophy of Alaska politics.
“Wally had this saying ‘Alaska first.’ If you take care of Alaska, Alaska will take care of you. To me that means paying attention to people’s needs and to nature. If you pay attention, and all three agreed on this, along with Sen. (Ted) Stevens – you’re going to have a sustainable state,” Treadwell said.
At the end of that rainy Homer visit, his Homer guide, Welles said he anticipates Treadwell will be a more visible lieutenant governor than Alaskans have known in the past.
“He has diverse experience. We’ll see how he and the governor work together, and since they don’t have a lot of experience in working together, how they complement one another’s strengths remains to be seen,” Welles said. “We might see greater involvement from him than from any prior lieutenant governor.”
If so, it may well match another of Treadwell’s Alaska philosophies inherited from his political forefathers: Alaskans are free to pioneer.
“Wally used to say ‘frontiers are in the mind.’ A frontier can be on the cutting edge of technology or an advance in research on environmental/economic issues,” he said.
Or a renovation of the second highest spot in state government.
Comments are closed