A governor under seige



In 2018, Alaska elected conservative state Sen. Michael Dunleavy as the state’s 12th governor. Dunleavy’s story is pretty straightforward: He legislated as a conservative, campaigned as a conservative, and for the last year has governed as a conservative.

In Alaska in 2019, “governing” has meant fiscal seriousness. Everyone knows the story. As the price of oil has fallen, so have tax revenues derived from oil leases.

The state’s larger-than-expected budget shortfall is not anyone’s fault, but it is elected officials’ responsibility to deal with it. Like most legislatures — very much including the U.S. Congress — the Alaska Legislature was reluctant to restore fiscal discipline if it meant spending cuts, even though the state’s damaged credit rating demanded it.

And so, Gov. Dunleavy did exactly what he promised to do and exactly what Alaska’s governor — empowered with a line-item veto for this very purpose — is supposed to do: He led. He first worked with the Legislature to find savings. But in politics, no one wants to be proverbial skunk at the garden party. And so, when legislators refused to deal with the budget crisis, Gov. Dunleavy used his line-item veto power to cut spending himself.

Alaska partisans, who launched a campaign to recall Gov. Dunleavy within months of his being sworn into office, used the budget reductions to inflame and co-opt public opinion in support of their politically motivated attempt to nullify the results of the 2018 election.

On Nov. 4, the Division of Elections rejected the recall petition because it failed to meet even the most basic standards required under the law. The recall process is designed to protect the state from corrupt or unfit officials; there is no such case against Gov. Dunleavy. The recall petition does not accuse Dunleavy of malfeasance, just fiscal discipline. Improving the state’s economic climate and plummeting credit rating are not crimes.

As John F. Kennedy famously said, “To govern is to choose.” Too many politicians — in Washington, in Juneau and every elected government around the world — prefer not to choose. They prefer to avoid difficult decisions. They prefer to talk rather than act. They prefer to be like pundits on TV, criticizing other people’s decisions rather than making their own. I served in Congress for 15 years, and I know. With responsibility comes accountability — angry phone calls, rowdy town halls, difficult re-election campaigns.

The Founders understood this was a fatal temptation of democracy. That’s why the Constitution they wrote requires the men and women who win elections to take an oath — a solemn promise — to fulfill the duties of their new job.

Gov. Dunleavy used his line-item veto not simply to cut the state’s budget, but to finally draw state legislators toward bipartisan compromise on overdue reforms. His efforts resulted in a significant cut in the state’s budget deficit in one year.

Fiscal discipline, like physical therapy after a necessary surgery, can hurt. But it pays manifold dividends in the long run. In response to Gov. Dunleavy’s budget leadership, the Alaska economy has added jobs, family income is rising quickly and the state’s unemployment rate is falling to historic lows.

The budget crisis presents Alaska with a challenge. Gov. Dunleavy met that challenge with transparency and honesty. While his critics sought to exploit the situation, he worked to solve it. That kind of leadership deserves respect, not recall.

Jim DeMint is a national conservative leader who is the Chairman of the Conservative Partnership Institute. DeMint represented South Carolina in the U.S. House (1999-2005) and U.S. Senate (2005-2013).


  1. As Jim DeMint isn’t from Alaska and has spent decades working in Washington, DC it’s understandable his analysis is not completely correct.

    Candidate for Governor Dunleavy promised to cut state spending. That’s true and the promise was well founded. But candidate Dunleavy arguably overpromised while running, including promises no actual Governor was likely to be able deliver.
    Once elected, Governor demonstrated the will to cut but made fantastically dreadful appointments like making Tuckerman Babcock the Chief of Staff. In other instances, the Governor’s appointments were unbelievably poor.
    The result of relying on Babcock and other hacks was predictably miserable.
    Governor Dunleavy has the will to cut but lacked the skills to get the job done in large measure because he put his fate in the hands of Babcock and a terrible communication team who pretty much alienated huge chunks of the Legislature and put Dunleavy’s truck not just in the ditch but over the cliff.
    Dunleavy is trying to salvage his tenure as our Governor but the harm done in the first 8 months is hard to remedy.
    Oh well …………..

    • And your comment is no more than your opinion. Governor Dunleavy is the best governor for the times we are facing with reducing state government spending. There are enough “skunks in the garden” without your troll comment. How much have you contributed to “Must Read Alaska”? My guess is little or nothing. You need to go back to the ADN and your liberal lemmings. This site is for the many real news and real conservatives who will show up in record numbers and re-elect Mike Dunleavy in three years. In the meantime, your recall effort will remain a fantasy. Mike Dunleavy will continue to be a hero to fiscally responsible and freedom-loving Alaskans. Oh well…………….your candidate lost the election, get over it.

      • Mr. Murphy: OK genius, let’s take it from the top.
        1. Of course my comment contains my opinion. That’s what this forum is mostly about.
        2. It’s arguable whether Governor Dunleavy is “the best” to serve as the head of the administrative branch under our constitutional framework. He won based on his campaign promises, including need to cut spending, a promise I supported but of course cutting and consolidating has been self-evidently obvious for years.
        3. The jumbled metaphor blending skunks in the garden with trolling is way loose but I sort of apprehend the emotion of your messaging. In my experience folks who use their own given name when expressing an opinion are trolls. But leaving tha aside, my points about our Governor are more in the nature of describing what’s happened on his watch and not ripping him as a person. If you want to view politics and government as some sort of weird boaster contest based on personality or ideology, go ahead and have at it. Personally I am from the functional school of politics grounded in results. But feel free to wander around in the forest of feelings if it makes you feel good.
        4. Actually I read Must Read Alaska frequently, and frequently post on the blog, so you are wrong on that part of your uninformed little diatribe. And, I am not a frequent reader of the Binkley Daily Snooze.
        5. I don’t consider myself a ”liberal” but perhaps that’s because I’ve been a registered Republican forgoing on 30 years and based on the work I do as well as my values but maybe it’s best to leave all characterizations of everything to you given that you obviously think you have a complete lock on reality.
        6. Personally I do not support recalling Governor Dunleavy for all the obvious reasons.
        7. I’ve been working steadily with Governor Dunleavy to place the PFD formula in the Alaska Constitution. I have missed your attention and work in regard to this vital work. Let me know if you have anything to offer in terms of getting something done there, than generating uninformed emotional screed.
        8. Arduin getting turfed out and now the Commissioner of Revenue leaving under what appear to be slightly wonky circumstances doesn’t Bode well for those of us who are working to protect the PFD and cutting and consolidating state government. Don’t be surprised if this administration starts talking about raising taxes. It’s sadly spinning out of control and much of it has to do with mendacious personnel selection by Tuckerman Babcock.
        Put it down to another lost opportunity. As a conservative, it is hard to observe.

      • That’s calling it as you see it… 20/20 is hard for some entrenched pigs at the trough! Not including you Joe, but you and I disagree about the POMV & the intent of the PFD. It’s of my opinion that it’s a property right as I see it. Its a balance of equity for the socialization of property rights, we second class citizens do not get because of rinos in our conservative base.

    • The problem is with the Legislature and it’s continued instance to spend like usual. The problem with spending in this State is a direct result of the Legislatures inability to look farther down the road then the next election. When one is faced with declining revenues then one looks at where and how to cut and unfortunately the Legislature to near sighted.

  2. Governor Dunleavy has done a remarkable job! It takes great courage to lead, especially with the constant opposition he has faced, even from his own party. Alaska is blessed to have a governor who has the fortitude to keep his word and do the hard things necessary to help our state prosper in the long term. Thank you, Governor Dunleavy for “standing tall for Alaska!”

    • Governor Dunleavy has been forced to deal with the reality that the Alaska Republican Party is full of rinos, traitors, and liars who have severely damaged the daily efforts of our governor. Does anybody really think that Ann Brown, Jennifer Johnston, Cathy Giessel, along with the other fellow liars are conservative loyalists to anybody but the reflection in the mirror? Moreover, None of these people are problem solvers assuming that they even know what the problems are. Let me assist them.

      1. Each fails to comprehend that our State an oil state. If we are not pumping oil we are going out of business but for taxing anything that moves. Resource development is job one.. Alaska is full of potential but it begins with responsible spending. These people in concert with others across the aisle have spent $16 billion since the Parnell governorship. I believe Parnell paid $3 billion to the State Retirement fund.

      2. Big Oil is our partner in the effort of bringing oil to market. They are not our enemy. The 50,000 barrel per day producers are extremely important to Alaska.. They are the lifeblood of our state. We must restore the trust and confidence as business partners for the survival of the Alaskan Republican Party and our Great State. We as Alaskans must stand with our governor.

      3. They are traitors to our governor.

      • I have been a conservative Republican my entire life. Giessel and Johnston represent my district but they have subverted our Governor at every opportunity and I will never support either again and that includes Lisa Murkowski. I have written letters to all three expressing my profound displeasure with their “representation” to our district and that they have lost my support going foward. I certainly hope Ross Bieling runs again, his political positions align with mine.

  3. This is a great analysis! Governor Dunleavy’s greatest threats are his own appointees and his own party legislators. What a shame.

    Successive legislatures and Governors Parnell and Walker drove State spending in Alaska up to this unsustainable and unnecessary level. By comparing our spending to the exact same functions in other states you will find we spend three times (3X) more than some states, and double (2X) what most states spend on government services (reference link below). The argument that Alaska is “different” because of size and cold and geography is just not applicable to most government services. We have far too many state workers (double what we need).

    This is because Alaska has chosen the most expensive and wasteful methods in the United States to provide most governmental Regulatory services, Criminal Justice services, Health Care services, Special Education services, and Administrative services. Each of these programs need to be examined, comparisons to programs in other states should be considered, and a well thought out plan needs to be developed for each agency. By tackling those five programs specifically we can reduce the state workforce by over 7,000 positions, and even then we will still have the highest number of state employees per capita in the USA!

    The leaders Dunleavy appointed failed to provide him with that overall plan. Instead they proposed sweeping cuts to certain programs that were politically unpopular, resulting in this shameful recall effort. They did not do the hard work of re-imagining departments and programs as smaller, leaner, and better.

    I know from personal experience that reducing and reorganizing is very hard to do as a government manager, but I also know from my businesses that lean practices result in more profitable and better companies.

    Dunleavy tried, but his appointees are falling off right and left because they are unwilling to lean up this government. I agree that Tuckerman was the wrong choice, and perhaps Brett can’t get the job done either, but Alaska needs to make a plan, and that plan needs to reduce our government programs so they are comparable in size to other state programs doing that same work. It’s not too much to ask that all of the Governor’s managers get on board with that program. I suggest the Governor should keep firing managers who are not on board until he gets the support he needs to truly get the job done!

    Source of Numbers: https://ballotpedia.org/Total_state_government_expenditures

  4. The measure of a man is his ability to recognize his errors and take corrective action.
    Once elected I received calls from across the State about my opinion of Babcock. All comments about Babcock were negative, all comments. I share that sentiment.
    The radical methodology used by Babcock is historic, No other politico has done so much, in so little time, all bad.
    The Governor got rid of the pestilence.
    Issues immediately eased. Reasonable budget reductions were negotiated. Key being reductions.
    As troubling as this may be, I am proud of my single vote for a Man who has the courage to break the cycle of more, more, and still more.
    The recall petition drive to steal my right as a voter is a Joke.
    The Future for Alaska is Great. Recall we are OPEN for business. The Regulatory climate both State and Federal is as good as I have seen in my life. Good for a Society that depends on resource extraction.
    Our Elected Governor was Burned because of his loyalty to Babcock.
    Mike learned and Mike moved on.

    • “The recall petition drive to steal my right as a voter is a Joke.” This statement is the “joke.”
      Recall is a constitutional issue and were the partisanship more aligned with Joe, he would have no issue with it IMO.

  5. Joe, your analysis was spot on. A number of the questionable appointments still exist. Not one person with career healthcare experience was appointed to or hired within Health & Social Services where the state is bleeding to death. Their answer, contract with an out of state company to show the leadership of HSS how to “fix” the mess. It was a big contract. I know 6 Alaskan healthcare professionals that could fix the mess but Tuckerman and the current leadership in HSS would not interview them.
    This is where our PFD MONEY is going – out of State.

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