AK: Interview with Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell – Part 1

Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell

Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell

Mead Treadwell is Alaska’s lieutenant governor and a candidate in this year’s Republican primary to challenge incumbent Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat, in November.

State of Reform’s DJ Wilson interviewed Treadwell in early February about his life and career, his views on Obamacare, Medicaid and mental health care, and his campaign in one of the most closely watched Senate races this year.

In part one of this four-part interview, published on Monday, DJ asks Treadwell about important events and turning points in his life and career.

In part two, Treadwell discusses his views on the Affordable Care Act.

In part three, discusses Medicaid expansion under the ACA and mental health care.

In part four, Treadwell discusses his campaign for the U.S. Senate.

DJ:  People who understand how screwed up the health care system is often have gone through the health care system themselves.  You’ve had a series of experiences in health care with your family.  Can you share some of those?

I’ll say there are three tragedies that kind of define my life.  I lost my dad in a fire in 1973.  I was a sophomore in high school, about to become a junior.  For that reason I have always done everything I can to help the firemen, the EMTs.  The irony is that the firemen who were trying to save Dad’s life and save our house were the people we’d been eating hot dogs with at the fire station the day before in Newtown, Connecticut, where Dad was mayor.

Carol and I lost a son to SIDS in 1993.  It was just before the government came back with some research studies that said, “Sleep your baby on their back.” The how-to kit they give parents when they leave the hospital said, “Sleep your baby on their tummy.”  The reduction in SIDS death is dramatic just because of that one simple piece of information.

In 2000, my wife Carol, who was just 42 at the time, contracted a brain tumor, and we began a two-year quest to keep her alive.  She ended up being in a clinical trial at UCLA.  That was profiled on NBC’s Dateline, on a show called “Against All Odds.”  Carol was just the eternal optimist.  The show became the top medical documentary of the year and the top cancer documentary of the year.

DJ:  Thanks for sharing. Those are powerful stories.

One of the things I think people want to know when they elect a senator is, “Have you had life experiences?”  The experience of meeting a payroll, the experience of being an entrepreneur, the experience of having a yard sale to pay your mortgage, the experience of being in the ‘sandwich generation’ trying to help mom when at the same time you’re trying to help kids get through college, the experience of going through these health care tragedies that we went through make you much more aware of the challenges people are facing.

DJ: I understand that you think of Governor Walter Hickel as your mentor.  How did you first meet him?

I was 18 years old and I had just gotten out of high school.  My grandmother, who was in public health, had a degree in public health and had run the [American] Heart Association [chapter] in Kansas City, Kansas.  She was looking for a retirement job.  She ended up being at the senior center in Ketchikan as a volunteer.

Through some other connections, I had arranged a job west of Kodiak, back on a cattle ranch.  I got back to the dispatcher’s house in Anchorage, and she said, “Son, we didn’t know how to reach you while you were on the road.  Your job fell through because we lost a lease on a certain amount of land we had.”

I had read Governor Hickel’s book Who Owns America on the ferry boat coming up to Alaska.  So I went and knocked on his door and asked for advice.  He said, “I can’t afford to pay you, but you can work here anyway.”

I said, “I’ve got to raise some money for college.”  And he said, “Well, you can be a busboy at night.  Why don’t you work with me in the office during the day?”

I’ve always been grateful to Governor Hickel for saying yes.  I had a chance to work in his office in ’74, and I worked with him in politics later on, in government, served in his cabinet and in the academy, helping to start a think tank, as well as having started several businesses with him, including Yukon Pacific.

DJ:  Digimarc, Yukon Pacific.  You’ve been in a number of businesses.

A serial entrepreneur.

DJ:  What did you like most about being an entrepreneur?

 I’ve always found myself as someone who can talk very well between lots of different groups that don’t always talk well together, and to find common ground.  In business, what you need to do is you need to assemble—an idea, a marketplace, capital to make it go, and a team to execute it.

What I have found in business is the power of networking.  Virtually every kind of major milestone that we had was based on the power of networking, and the power of being recognized as the kind of person who will do what you say you’re going to do.  And sometimes you can’t, but for the most part character counts.  Another thing I tell people interested in investing in start-ups is, you figure out what is inevitable and try to be part of the team that makes it happen.  What I admire is teams that come together to make the inevitable happen.

DJ:  You were recruited to go to work in the White House for President Reagan, right?

In 1979-1980, I was assistant press secretary for John Connolly’s presidential campaign.  Jim Brady was John Connolly’s press secretary before he was Ronald Reagan’s press secretary.  When the Connolly campaign ended in March 1980 Jim invited me to come and work for him on the Reagan campaign.

I was also looking to buy a business in Kodiak, Alaska, going up and putting on my extra tufts and being a businessman in a fishing community.  And I said, “Jim, the White House is very attractive, but I want you guys to be president and I’ll serve under the American flag.”

I ended up going back to graduate school to get an MBA at Harvard.  Between my first and second year, actually in the first year, Jim called me and said, “Do you think you could come down here this summer and work with us?” And I said, “Well, I don’t really plan to, but I’ll certainly come down and talk with you.”  I had an appointment with him where I was the next guy on his calendar after the President’s visit to the Hilton where Brady and the President were shot.  I ended up turning down that job, and the Reagan White House.

DJ:  Tell me about the Valdez oil spill and your role in that.

The Valdez oil spill happened on a Good Friday—25 years ago, as a matter of fact.   I had just been part of selling a natural gas pipeline venture.  I knew the Valdez well.  I knew Prince William Sound well as someone who had boated there quite a bit with Governor Hickel.  I got a call, “The city of Cordova needs someone to manage their relationship with the spill.”  And this was the city that was affected most dramatically by the fishing shutdown and everything else like that.

I ended up working most of the rest of 1989 and ‘90 helping the town respond and helping the people get their claims in, helping the clean-up, helping facilities in town where we didn’t have enough places for people to sleep.  We didn’t have enough ways to deal with boats coming in covered with oil or airplanes coming in covered with oil that landed on the reservoir.

The legacies that we were able to accomplish both in those two years and then in the four years I spent in government after that included the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. I’m very proud of what we’ve done to establish good environmental laws, good spill protection for the country, and to help Alaskans be whole.


If you’d like to read more, in part two, Treadwell discusses his views on the Affordable Care Act.

In part three, Treadwell discusses Medicaid expansion under the ACA and mental health care.

In part four, Treadwell talks about his campaign for the U.S. Senate.