Recall leader: 'Alaskans are firing the governor'

Joaqlin Estus

Governor Mike Dunleavy: “You may hear some negative things but we have good news on the economy”

The Recall Dunleavy campaign blew past the number of signatures needed in the first phase of ousting Alaska’s governor. Thursday Sept. 5, the campaign submitted more than half again as many to the Division of Elections for certification. Their goal was to collect signatures of registered voters equal to ten percent of the number of people who voted in the last election, or 28,501 signatures. Their application included 17 percent or 49,006 signatures collected by more than a thousand volunteers in 20 communities across Alaska. 

Organizers collected more signatures than required because they expect some will be disqualified and want to be sure to meet the requirement. And, they wanted to give Alaskans a chance to express their disapproval of the governor.

The Recall Dunleavy campaign was launched on Aug. 1 and gathered more than 10,000 signatures on the first day. The campaign was fueled in large part by public outrage over Dunleavy’s line item vetoes to the state budget in June that totaled $400 million. The biggest cuts were to the University of Alaska, Medicaid, early childhood education, and low-income seniors.

State budget cuts will affect every part of the state. But tribes, regional non-profits, and regional for-profit Alaska Native organizations said the cuts will cause more harm to rural Alaska, which is mostly Native, than to urban areas. Richard Peterson, president and CEO of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, said it felt like the governor was declaring war on Alaska Natives.

Economists warned the size of the cuts could slow the economy and set off another recession. Critics called the cuts sudden and severe and accused the governor of creating an unnecessary crisis.

The board of directors of the for-profit Native corporation Cook Inlet Region, Inc. took the unprecedented step of voting to recall a governor, saying it would be “irresponsible to sit idly by while Alaska is plunged into an avoidable fiscal and social crisis.”

After the launch of the recall campaign, Dunleavy pulled back on some of the cuts but still vetoed some $200 million.

File photo: Recall Dunleavy campaign chair and spokesperson Meda DeWitt in Anchorage. Photo credit: Laurence A. Goldin

After leaders of the recall submitted their seven boxes of signatures, they spoke to about a hundred supporters outside the Division of Elections offices. KTVA showed Recall Dunleavy campaign chair and spokesperson Meda DeWitt, Tlingit, saying, “We know who he is. He’s the wrong man for the job,” she said. “Alaskans are firing the governor.”

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Cover: Screen shot of a video from Governor Mike Dunleavy making a statement on Alaska’s economy at the Port of Anchorage Sept. 5, 2019.

Dunleavy didn’t address the recall campaign directly, but later that day made a statement at the Port of Anchorage. He said, “You may hear some negative things but we have good news on the economy.

“Unemployment is down, our GDP is up, and investors are looking at Alaska. We have tremendous opportunities,” said Dunleavy, a Republican. He said billions of dollars are being invested in the North Slope to put new oil in the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, which would boost state revenues.

Dunleavy said his administration is talking with investors about extending a rail line from Alberta to Alaska. The governor said that would cut the cost of shipping Alaska resources out of state, and could bring Canadian goods through Alaska for shipping to Asia. He said Anchorage is already the second busiest cargo hub in the United States and fifth in the world.

“We are the center of the world,” said Dunleavy. “We are nine to 10 hours by air to anywhere in the northern hemisphere. We’re the closest state to Asia by thousands of miles. So we have some real opportunities here.”

The Division of Elections will check the validity of the signatures while the Department of Law reviews the grounds for recall. The application cites neglect of duties, incompetence, and lack of fitness as the grounds for recall. It states Dunleavy missed a statutory deadline for appointment of a judge; authorized the spending of state money for political advertising; and violated separation of powers by cutting the court system’s budget in retaliation for a ruling he opposed.

If the Division of Elections certifies the recall application’s signatures, and the Department of Law validates the grounds for the recall, the next step for the Recall Dunleavy campaign is to collect 71,000 signatures, or 25 percent of the 2018 voter turnout. If the campaign reaches that benchmark, the Division of Elections would hold an election on whether to recall the governor.

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Joaqlin Estus, Tlingit, is a long-time Alaska journalist based in Anchorage.