HE WAS IN OFFICE FOR 72 DAYS. ON DAY 73, THE RECALL EFFORT BEGAN
“Get Mike Dunleavy! Fire Mike Dunleavy!” roared Rep. Ivy Spohnholz to the approval of the crowd in Anchorage, as she pumped her fist.
A man grabbed the microphone and screamed at the top of his lungs, “Fire Dunleavy! Fire Dunleavy!” over and over. Veins stood out in his neck as he raged at the group gathered at Cuddy Park, where there were signs, sani-cans, and signature gatherers.
It was reminiscent of the protests across the country after Donald Trump became president, with the “Me Too” women’s marches, the Black Lives Matter marches, and the seemingly endless protests against his presidency that have occurred over the past four years.
“Power to the people! Take the power back!” they chanted in Kenai, as though there had not been a General Election 268 days earlier.
Fairbanks, feeling budget cuts to the university, may have had the biggest crowd of all on Thursday — university employees and their supporters streamed in to Pioneer Park to sign the application for a petition to recall the governor. After all, the university is what makes Fairbanks’ economy tick. Fairbanks is a city where even the newspaper has taken a front-page stand against budget cuts:
Across the state, thousands participated in a collective venting of frustration over the budget cuts of this governor, who has been in office for just 243 days, yet angered opponents by vetoing funding for programs they hold dear — everything from the State Council on the Arts, Public Broadcasting, to discount ferry service and horrifically underperforming schools and universities.
CUTS BY THE NUMBERS
- Dunleavy’s first round of vetoes amounted to $602 per Alaskan.
- Gov. Bill Walker’s halving of the Permanent Fund dividend, which he did as a veto in 2016, and did in cooperation with the Legislature the two following years, amounted to a cut of $3,733 per person.
- The Legislature’s veto of half of the 2019 statutory PFD amounts to a cut of $1,495 per Alaskan.
The budget cuts have caused social unrest in a state where nearly 28 percent of Alaska workers have government jobs. Where 38,000 Alaska families are on food stamps, and over 17,000 families are on welfare.
The social unrest is real and the organizers know the demographics. They are armed with social media, pens, and petitions. On Day One, they announced they had 10,000 signatures of the 28,501 that they need to ask for a formal recall petition.
Dunleavy was sworn into office on Dec. 3 at a ceremony in Kotzebue that his predecessor, Gov. Bill Walker, and former Lt. Gov. Valerie Davidson boycotted.
Within 72 days, Dunleavy had submitted his budget, as required by law. It trimmed 16 percent from the Walker-proposed budget, which had grown from the previous year’s budget.
On the 73rd day of Dunleavy’s administration, the recall efforts began in earnest. The website URLS were purchased and the recall advocates began to try to piece together a case. A winter of protest has breathed new life into a protest movement many of them took part in after the Trump election.
WHAT THEY’RE UP AGAINST
Dunleavy’s campaign for governor had been decidedly populist. He ran on giving people their full Permanent Fund dividend as determined by statute, unlike his predecessor, who had ushered in three years of half dividends, holding the rest of the checks into the Earnings Reserve Account of the state’s Permanent Fund, a sub-fund that has grown to $19 billion.
Dunleavy also ran on rolling back the pro-crime bill SB 91, and reining in spending, saying that at the rate Alaska was going, it would end up draining the Permanent Fund in just a few years.
But while he has not yet been able to get Alaskans their full Permanent Fund dividends from the Legislature, which is now dominated by half-dividend lawmakers, the process of the veto overrides has not worked according to plan for those who oppose the cuts.
The recall proponents are up against a process that involves their elected legislators. No matter the protests, phone calls, testimony, and fax-bombing of legislators’ offices, they simply have not been able to muster the 45 votes needed to override Dunleavy’s vetoes.
It wasn’t for lack of trying: The legislative leadership, during the second Special Session, stuffed nearly all the vetoed funding back into HB 2001, a new appropriation bill it passed last week and will transmit to the governor this coming week.
Meanwhile, because they could not prevail with the legal legislative remedies, anger grew among the Democrats, union business representatives, and nonprofit executives — all those who had never voted for Dunleavy in the first place and those who were seeing the spigot of funding turned down.
Soon, the recall plan was in place with the help of former Walker Administration top operatives: Walker Chief of Staff Scott Kendall and former Walker Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth. Kendall crowed on social media that he had signed the recall petition with his souvenir Bill Walker pen.
The recall application launch party was well played by a savvy and experienced Left, with funding and organizational help from the AFL-CIO and other public employee unions. It made great video for the news cycle. The weather cooperated. To keep it from looking partisan, the Alaska Democratic Party kept a low profile. Mark Begich, who lost to Dunleavy in the 2018 election, has stood on the sidelines advocating for veto overrides but, smartly, silent on the recall.
Although Dunleavy supporters find the grounds for a recall to be flimsy, the matter will go to the Alaska Supreme Court: Are their grounds?
Those who signed the petition are motivated. They’re angry they have to pay their own ferry fares, angry that Pioneer Home rates must go up, and angry that the University of Alaska System is finally being held accountable, having had 17 percent of its overall budget cut out from under it. Not a single one of them interviewed by the media said Dunleavy should be recalled because he didn’t appoint a judge in time, or because he “mistakenly vetoed” funds he told the Legislature he would not veto, or because he trimmed the administrative overhead of the Alaska Supreme Court.
They’re mad about all the budget cuts.
But they’re also not yet facing the fact that 145,631 Alaskans voted for Dunleavy. He had the second most votes of any candidate for governor of Alaska (Sean Parnell got the most with 151,318 votes in the 2010 General Election, the top vote getter in Alaska history.)
That only matters if the Supreme Court lets the recall go to the ballot. No one knows what judges will do, but in Alaska, judges tend to be liberal, and these judges are already on record as opposing the cuts to their own court’s administrative overhead. That is something the recall proponents are counting on to help them try to sway the justices a few months from now.
They’re also counting on, between now and then, showing judges that there are thousands who are unhappy with the election results, the subsequent budget cuts, and who want a do-over.