The backers of the effort to recall Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy say they’ll take the state’s rejection of the recall application to the courts, arguing the state’s rejection of the application is “without basis.”
Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai today officially rejected the application to recall the governor, saying that while it had met the technical requirements for a recall it fell short of the legal grounds needed to call a recall election. The decision is based on legal advice from Attorney General Kevin Clarkson.
The recall group gathered nearly 50,000 signatures in a month after launching the statewide and bipartisan effort to remove Dunleavy from office. The effort was fueled in large part by outrage over the governor’s vetoes of state services, but the legal basis of the recall included more issues including Dunleavy’s refusal to appoint a judge on time and his use of state resources to bolster his political allies.
It’s Clarkson’s opinion that none of the issues met the legal grounds for a recall. The opinion is not surprising.
When it comes to the refusal to appoint a judge on time, Clarkson argues “because the forty-five day time frame is merely procedural rather than substantive, the mere failure to comply with it does not amount to neglect of duty.”
He says the Recall Group didn’t prove the refusal to follow statute actually was a problem, arguing that “the governor’s substantive duty under the Alaska Constitution is to fill a vacancy, not to make an appointment within a specific time frame.”
The cases against the other claims are similar. They don’t dispute the underlying facts of each case, but instead argue that the violations simply don’t rise to the level that Clarkson considers necessary to meet the ground of recall of his boss. Clarkson also frequently argues that the recall group left out important facts in its application, which is limited to 200 words.
In other cases, like that with the state-funded political advertisements, Clarkson argues not only was that spending not established as illegal or unethical but that the group didn’t sufficiently prove that Dunleavy even knew about the ad campaigns.
A Department of Law spokeswoman told the Anchorage Daily News that the opinion was “was basically done for and by the attorney general.”
Former Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth, who’s counsel to Recall Dunleavy, disagreed wholesale with Clarkson’s legal opinion.
“Without question, the recall application submitted to the Division of Elections meets the standard under Alaska law. This rejection is without basis, and we will now turn to the courts for a remedy. We do so with confidence that we will receive fair treatment and we will prevail,” Lindemuth said in a prepared statement. “Alaskans should expect a prompt resolution of this dispute. The recall will continue forward.”
The timeline for an appeal and resolution is unclear, but courts have typically worked to expedite such disputes when it comes to initiatives. Unlike initiatives, however, a recall petition doesn’t face the same deadlines as initiatives need to reach a ballot.
If and when the group’s application is certified and petition booklets are issued, the group has no deadline for when it will need to collect the 71,252 signatures. Once the group turns in those signatures, state law requires the state to call a special election between 60 and 90 days from when the signatures are turned in.
Why it matters
Today’s rejection by the Division of Elections based on the legal advice from Clarkson was expected. The state has regularly opposed or, at the very least, muddied the waters when it comes to election issues opposed by the Dunleavy administration.
It initially rejected an application to reform the state’s elections and is currently appealing that decision to the Alaska Supreme Court. It didn’t reject an initiative to increase taxes on certain oil fields, but instead issued a summary that was filled with both typos and factual errors.
While the governor has been dismissive of the election, he is working with a political group to raise unlimited funds to battle the election effort. His recent right-wing media tour, which was capped off with a visit with President Trump, was widely seen as an effort to drum up national support against the recall.
Those efforts would suggest that they’re not certain that Clarkson’s efforts to stymie the recall will ultimately be successful.
It will, however, slow the process, but delays have long been expected by the recall backers.