Alaska Gov. Dunleavy’s top rural affairs advisor departs, and tribal and fishing leaders wonder why

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s former rural affairs advisor, John Moller, center, fields questions with Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer at a forum in Juneau. (Jacob Resneck/CoastAlaska)

Alaska Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s longtime rural affairs advisor, John Moller, has left his job.

Moller was a trusted advisor to Dunleavy, having co-chaired his successful 2018 gubernatorial campaign, and his portfolio included work with the fishing industry and Alaska Native issues.

Moller’s departure was first reported by the Alaska Landmine, a political blog.

A spokesman for Dunleavy, Jeff Turner, confirmed that Moller is no longer working in the governor’s office, but wouldn’t say if he resigned or was fired. Moller didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Moller’s surprise departure was rippling through Alaska political circles Tuesday.

“We’re processing the news like everyone else, but he had become a trusted state partner,” said Nicole Borromeo, general counsel and executive vice president at the Alaska Federation of Natives.

Related: As recall effort looms, can Gov. Dunleavy ease tensions with Alaska Native groups?

Moller, who lives in Juneau, has a lengthy history in Alaska politics, Native issues and fisheries. He’s Alaska Native and a shareholder in two Alaska Native corporations — The Aleut Corp. and Ounalashka Corp. — and owns commercial fishing permits for Southeast Alaska shrimp, crab and salmon, according to a state database.

Before working for Dunleavy, Moller served as a rural affairs advisor to Sean Parnell, the previous Republican governor, then joined Parnell in a consulting business.

People who worked with Moller described him as accessible and an important conduit to the governor’s office who could help elevate their issues and problems.

“We don’t always agree with the administration, but Johnny was always easy to work with,” said Matt Alward, president of United Fishermen of Alaska. “If he had a position different than ours, he’d make that clear. But it didn’t harm our ability to work together.”

Moller’s position was an important one to the fishing industry, and UFA members hope he’s replaced, Alward added. Turner would not say if the governor intends to fill Moller’s position, though Dunleavy does have another special assistant, Bill Thomas, with experience working on Alaska Native and fisheries issues.

Borromeo, from the Alaska Federation of Natives, said Moller had been instrumental in re-starting negotiations between the state and tribes on an agreement to have tribes assume some of the state’s responsibilities for child welfare.

The agreement had been negotiated between tribes and the administration of the previous governor, independent Bill Walker. But Dunleavy’s administration had paused negotiations on the agreement when he came into office.

“John was really good about getting us in the room with Gov. Dunleavy early on, for face-to-face meetings, to have those conversations,” Borromeo said.

Moller had also been an important link between the state and tribal health organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic, Borromeo added.

“John was always one to pick up the phone and to listen, which is an invaluable relationship to have,” she said. “That’s not to say we agreed with him on every point. But what I will say is he was always available to listen, and to take a meeting.”

This story has corrected the spelling of Ounalashka Corp.