Dunleavy resigns from Legislature to campaign (and fundraise) for governor’s race

(Photo by Senate Majority Press)

Wasilla Republican Sen. Mike Dunleavy has resigned from the Alaska Legislature, a move that will give him extra time to hold fundraisers and campaign for the Republican Party’s nomination for governor.

Dunleavy made the announcement over the weekend and filed an official statement along with his resignation letter this morning. Dunleavy reentered the governor’s race shortly before Christmas after taking time off for health reasons.

“For the last five years, it’s been an honor and privilege to represent my constituents in the Legislature,” he said in a prepared statement. “Yet I’ve come to the conclusion that without new leadership in the governor’s office, there is a practical limit to what any individual or caucus in the Legislature can achieve to turn this state around. I believe the best way I can effectively advocate for my constituents’ values is to devote 100 percent of my time and energy to the cause of ensuring that Alaska elects a new governor in 2018. I am accordingly resigning from my seat in the state Senate.”

Word is advisers had urged Dunleavy to consider resigning the seat. A key benefit of the move is that Dunleavy will be able to hold fundraisers and collect campaign contributions, in addition to other campaign work.

Legislators and their staff are barred by state law from receiving or making campaign contributions while the Alaska Legislature is in regular or special session. The ban eases in the 90 days running up to an election by allowing legislators to hold fundraisers as long as they’re not located in the same place where session has convened.

Senate District E Republican officials will now be tasked with replacing Dunleavy, in the same process House District 40 Democrats are seeking a replacement for Rep. Dean Westlake. (We’ve heard that Rep. David Eastman is interested in the seat).

Dunleavy was elected in 2012 after winning a primary challenge against incumbent Republican Sen. Linda Menard as part of a conservative, anti-bipartisan group wave.

Why this matters

The state Republican race for governor is not in the most exciting of places right now, and that’s borne out by recent polling that shows the most popular candidate by far is one that isn’t even in the race (John Binkley). There’s just no clear front-runner for support to begin to coalesce around, raising the possibility for a competitive and costly primary. It’s likely a disappointing place given Gov. Bill Walker’s bottom-barrel popularity due to veto dividend (though it’s been supported by a majority of legislators) and lingering speculation that Mark Begich could get in the race and split votes with Walker.

In an election year that looks to be dominated by issues like the size of the permanent fund dividend and crime, Dunleavy stands to have one of the best voting records of any current or recent legislator to seek the office. Dunleavy could be a rallying point for the far-right. He’s rejected every proposal to tamper with the dividend, left the Republican-led majority over a budget he said hadn’t been cut enough and voted against the final version of criminal justice reform Senate Bill 91 before voting against Senate Bill 54 for not being tough enough on crime.

However, his far-right voting record and refusal to play game with the Republican-led Senate majority has put him on outs with other key Republicans. Still, it’s likely something that will fire up his base even if it could be limiting when it comes to big-donor support and the general election.

Full press release:

Mike Dunleavy Announces Resignation from Senate

ANCHORAGE, January 8, 2018 — Senator Mike Dunleavy today issued the following statement regarding his service in the Alaska State Senate:

“For the last five years, it’s been an honor and privilege to represent my constituents in the Legislature. I have striven to faithfully advocate for their values and priorities, and I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish.

“Yet I’ve come to the conclusion that without new leadership in the Governor’s office, there is a practical limit to what any individual or caucus in the Legislature can achieve to turn this state around. I believe the best way I can effectively advocate for my constituents’ values is to devote 100 percent of my time and energy to the cause of ensuring that Alaska elects a new Governor in 2018. I am accordingly resigning from my seat in the State Senate.

“One criticism I’ve made of state government is that it continuously grows and takes on too many responsibilities, and does many of them poorly. It’s far preferable to do fewer things, and do them with excellence. I think that maxim must apply to individuals as well –especially legislators.

“This past Saturday I shared my decision with the local Republican Party leadership in our district. I am pleased to share that their reactions were very positive and understanding. These local Republican leaders bear the responsibility for nominating a list of persons who are capable of filling out the short remainder of my Senate term. I have the utmost confidence they will choose excellent nominees.

“I sent a letter to Senate President Pete Kelly this morning informing him of my resignation. I shared my appreciation for his leadership in the Senate, and for the collaboration that I have enjoyed with my former colleagues in the Senate Majority.”

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