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Alaskans deserve transparency from the recall campaign

  • Author: Paul Jenkins
    | Opinion
  • Updated: 4 days ago
  • Published 3 days ago

In a Tuesday, March 26, 2019 photo, protestors unfurl a "Recall Dunleavy" banner as Gov. Mike Dunleavy, upper left, speaks during a roadshow with Americans for Prosperity in 49th State Brewing Company in Anchorage, Alaska. Attorneys for the Recall Dunleavy campaign, in court papers filed Tuesday, Nov. 5, say Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai wrongly refused to certify the recall application. (Bill Roth/Anchorage Daily News via AP)/Anchorage Daily News via AP

It has been 102 days since the Recall Dunleavy effort began collecting signatures across Alaska with the aim of ultimately chasing Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy from office largely for his audacious tear-off-the-Band-Aid approach to curbing Alaska’s budget woes.

Since that morning on Aug. 1, the group has gathered 49,000 signatures — a few, it turns out, from the media — and submitted its recall application certification to the Division of Elections. The certification is needed before the effort’s second phase, which entails gathering the 71,251 signatures needed to force a special election, can begin.

It will not come easily. The Division of Elections rejected the application after Attorney General Kevin Clarkson unsurprisingly declared it unsubstantiated for failing “to meet any of the listed grounds for recall — neglect of duty, incompetence, or lack of fitness.” The group has gone to court.

What heinous crimes have Alaska’s 12th governor, in office only 241 days when the first recall signatures were gathered, done to rate his joining California Gov. Gray Davis and Gov. Lynn Frazier of North Dakota as only the third U.S. governor ever recalled?

His “crimes” are real doozies. Recall Dunleavy says he refused to appoint a judge to the Palmer Superior Court within 45 days, as required; that he used state funds to buy ads containing partisan statements about political opponents; that he erroneously vetoed $18 million from state Medicaid funding; and, that he vetoed funds appropriated for the judiciary in response to a court decision on abortion.

Good grief. For the record, Dunleavy was wrangling with the Alaska Judicial Commission over its proffered list of nominees and appointed a judge before the seat on the bench was vacated by the retiring judge. The ads were aimed at opponents of his budget policies, their partisanship in the eye of the beholder — and unsubstantiated by recall proponents, Clarkson opined. The Medicaid veto was discovered and fixed quickly, a simple “scrivener’s error,” the attorney general said. The court system veto was being heard by a Superior Court judge last week, but Clarkson said Dunleavy has constitutional power to veto “sums of money in any appropriation bill at his discretion.”

For many, Dunleavy’s biggest crime is that he simply did not do what the Left wanted, when it wanted or how it wanted it done. He told the big-government crowd to take a hike and went his own way, goring this ox and that, infuriating those who envision government as a vast, bottomless trough.

Former Democratic Sen. Vic Fischer, a 1955 Alaska Constitutional Convention delegate, Joe Usibelli, chairman of Usibelli Coal Mine, and Arliss Sturgulewski, a moderate former Republican state senator from Anchorage, are the effort’s faces. Anchorage lawyer Scott Kendall, former Gov. Bill Walker’s chief of staff for a time, is counsel for Recall Dunleavy, and Jahna Lindemuth, former attorney general for Walker, is a campaign adviser. They appear to be the media’s go-to campaign spokespeople. Then there are a host of deputies, hangers-on and worker bees.

That is a lot of people. Which brings up the question: Who is picking up the tab for all this, the signature gathering, the legal work, the airline tickets, the sandwiches and cold drinks?

Nobody outside the campaign really has a clue. It turns out backers of the Recall Dunleavy effort, or any such group, do not immediately have to tell the Alaska Public Offices Commission anything about their finances or spending. Nada. Zip. Squat.

Recall Dunleavy, unlike individual political campaigns, can receive and spend unlimited, unspecified amounts of money secretly from anybody and everybody, except foreign interests — at least until the question reaches the ballot. If it wins a ballot spot, and if the group rolls over into the ensuing election campaign any funds left over from the signature-gathering effort, backers would have to report every penny collected and spent since signature-gathering started Aug. 1.

If the group were to choose not to carry forward any leftover signature-gathering funding, Alaskans might never know who underwrote the effort to place the question on the ballot. Until it reaches the ballot, there are darned few rules governing what Recall Dunleavy takes in or spends. Until then, the effort to oust Dunleavy is little more than a ghost ship fueled by dark money.

Alaskans deserve better. The recall’s proponents, in the name of good government, transparency and fair play, owe voters an open and honest accounting of who or what is funding the effort - and then the Legislature should move to change the law to level the playing field in the future. A recall, after all, is every bit as political as an individual election campaign, perhaps even more so. The same rules should apply.

What Alaska has now is unacceptably poor public policy — no matter how you feel about Dunleavy, his budget cutting or the recall.

Paul Jenkins is editor of the AnchorageDailyPlanet.com, a division of Porcaro Communications.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

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