Gov. Michael Dunleavy entered the rally this evening in Wasilla to the iconic Tom Petty song blasting out from speakers, “I won’t Back Down.”
“You can stand me up at the gates of hell, but I won’t back down.”
About 300 residents from around Southcentral Alaska loved it, and cheered him into the room like a rock star. They came from as far away as Kenai to support him and his effort to protect their Permanent Fund dividends.
The song and the crowd made a statement: For them, the Permanent Fund dividend should be paid according to the statutory formula, and that is a non-negotiable item.
“And I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me down … Gonna stand my ground.”
Earlier in the day in Juneau, senators opposing the $3,000 dividend tried to force the Senate to revote on the PFD bill in front of them, but Sen. Shelley Hughes of the Mat-Su put a “call on the Senate,” and with members not showing up, the body eventually adjourned. It was parliamentary politics at play, as the Senate is split on whether the dividend should be the full $3,000 or should be the $1,600 that some lawmakers feel is “palatable enough” to the public.
In Wasilla, where the next special session will be held, any reduction from the statutory amount was not a palatable with the crowd at Everett’s, the lakeside venue where Dunleavy held his Restore the PFD rally.
“Well I know what’s right. I got just one life. In a world that keeps on pushin’ me ’round. But I’ll stand my ground.”
Many of Dunleavy’s remarks were similar to his campaign promises when he ran for governor, and indeed, it was his stance on the dividend that won him overwhelming support in November. This was a theme he was well-versed in, something he has talked about hundreds of times before, and at different town hall meetings across the state. And this was a crowd that clearly loves him.
Dunleavy urged those in attendance to not only call and write to those legislators who support the full dividend, and thank them, but to be sure to contact those who do not support the current statutory formula.
“The PFD is the canary in the mine,” he said. Once lawmakers start fooling around with the formula, which is set in statute, then it is only a matter of time. Later he told reporters that if the statute needs to be changed, then the Legislature should change it. But for now, he said, “Follow the Law.”
And he also reminded them, albeit he was preaching to the choir, that if the dividend is not paid in full, Alaskans will likely start a ballot initiative to take it to the vote of the people.
“Our framers (of the constitution) said you are the vanguard to keep in check rogue legislators,” Dunleavy said. “If you aren’t involved at the front end of this, you will be involved at the end.”
Several times during his remarks the crowd burst out in spontaneous cheering. There were no counter-protesters and security was light.
“Let’s work on this thing together,” Dunleavy said.
It appears that the governor has every intention of calling the Legislature into session in Wasilla, and if nothing else, the footage from tonight was staged to give the Legislature a sense of the enthusiasm of the people in the Valley for being part of the conversation.