The signature-gathering effort to begin the recall of Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy kicks off tomorrow, and it’ll be doing so with heavy-hitters from across the political spectrum as its backers.
Earlier this week, the group announced the co-chairs of its effort are Usibelli Coal Mine President Joe Usibelli, Alaska’s last living delegate to the Alaska Constitutional Convention Vic Fischer and long-time, well-respected Anchorage Republican Arliss Sturgulewski.
The trio represent a wide swath of Alaska politics and, in Usibelli, potentially deep pockets to help fund the campaign and lend it the legitimacy it needs to bring on other backers for the herculean task ahead of them.
The campaign faces a daunting task of first collecting the 28,501 signatures to make an application to the Division of Elections, which is overseen by Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer, before it can get on with the task of collecting 71,252 signatures, which is 25 percent of the voters from the 2018 election.
If that all goes well, a special election would be called within 60 to 90 days of the certification of the recall petition.
The recall campaign originally intended to launch in mid-July but those efforts were delayed to better organize the effort. The reworked launch includes multiple signature-gathering locations around the state, including in rural Alaska, and a 200-word grounds for recall statement that includes some of the governor’s greatest hits of ignoring state law during his eight months in office.
The points include cover neglect of duties, incompetence and lack of fitness, which is three of the four grounds for recall of an elected official. Corruption is left of the list, which is as follows:
- Governor Dunleavy violated Alaska law by refusing to appoint a judge to the Palmer Superior Court within 45 days of receiving nominations.
- Governor Dunleavy violated Alaska Law and the Constitution, and misused state funds by unlawfully and without proper disclosure, authorizing and allowing the use of state funds for partisan purposes to purchase electronic advertisements and direct mailers making partisan statements about political opponents and supporters.
- Governor Dunleavy violated separation-of-powers by improperly using the line-item veto to: (a) attack the judiciary and the rule of law; and (b) preclude the legislature from upholding its constitutional health, education and welfare responsibilities.
- Governor Dunleavy acted incompetently when he mistakenly vetoed approximately $18 million more than he told the legislature in official communications he intended to strike. Uncorrected, the error would cause the state to lose over $40 million in additional federal Medicaid funds.
The language references specific cuts made within Dunleavy’s $444 million in line-item vetoes, which landed a month ago and created a critical mass of opposition to the governor that has flowed well beyond traditional political lines. Business groups, long-time Republicans and many Dunleavy voters to voice regret over supporting his election.
That’s the case for Usibelli, who issued a call to action with his wife, Peggy Shumaker. Shumaker is a long-time member of the Alaska arts community and a former Alaska state writer laureate.
“We don’t understand the thinking, or the lack of thinking, that went into the vetoes,” Usibelli told the Anchorage Daily News, telling the newspaper that he supported and voted for Dunleavy.
“We care a whole lot about social programs, and community building, and not having infrastructure broken,” Shumaker added. “We have to recruit people to work in our business (Usibelli). It matters to them to have a good quality of life, and without the Alaska State Council on the Arts and without other things he chose to veto, we don’t have a good quality of life.”
Fischer has been a critic of Dunleavy’s time in office, particularly of a slurry of amendments the governor has proposed that would curtail the Legislature’s power to tax and spend. He said Dunleavy’s cuts are destroying the state that he and many others helped build.
Sturgulewski, a long-time Republican state senator and two-time gubernatorial candidate for the party, has been critical of the party’s move to the right. In a 2016 interview with ADN columnist Charles Wohlforth, she said solving the challenges Alaska faces requires people to put aside partisanship.
“I have always believed in crossing party lines and thinking of the whole of Alaska,” Sturgulewski said. “In that way, I am less than a perfect party member, because I think you involve everybody when you can. And I have been distressed that there doesn’t seem to be more leadership for cross-party actions for the best of the state.”
Despite the backlash, Dunleavy has been able to maintain his cuts with the help of a minority of Republican legislators who’ve refused to help reach the 45 votes needed to override a veto out of continued insistence that the state pay out a $3,000 PFD.
Many of those members have talked at length about their support for vetoed programs like the Senior Benefits Program, homelessness services, shelters for victims of domestic violence or the Alaska State Council on the Arts, which provides arts therapy for veterans among other things, but have continued to remain allied with the governor.
The majority of the Alaska Legislature voted to restore most of the vetoes earlier this week, but the governor has already signaled plans to veto most of the projects in the continued name of a $3,000 dividend. Despite the restoration of $110 million of a $136 million cut, the University of Alaska on Tuesday voted to move forward with a drastic downsizing and consolidation of the university system spelling an end to the state’s three-university system.
If the recall effort is successful, it would put Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer in the governor’s office. Meyer is generally considered to be a moderate, pro-business Republican—at least compared to Dunleavy.
Events are currently planned for Anchorage, Juneau, Fairbanks, Wasilla, Homer, Sitka, Valdez, Unalaska, Cordova, Iguigig, Ninilchik, Kodiak, Yakutat, Ketchikan and at Salmonfest in Kenai.