With the Alaska Legislature divided between two cities and an override vote looking increasingly unlikely, opponents of the governor’s budget vetoes gave one final push on Tuesday urging lawmakers to reverse the $444 million cuts.
In what is likely the largest protest since Gov. Mike Dunleavy vetoed 182 items from the state operating budget, more than 1,500 people crowded the parking lot of the Alaska Airlines Center in a last attempt to catch the ear of a deadlocked legislature.
The vetoes, which targeted education, healthcare and social services, among many other programs, ignited immediate and impassioned criticism.
“This can’t happen," said Tess Nott, a teacher at Lake Otis Elementary School. "They’ll kill their own people.”
The rally, organized in part by the University of Alaska Anchorage student government and in part by a coalition of organizations that collectively call themselves “Save Our State,” saw several big-name supporters — people like University of Alaska President Jim Jonsen, Alaska-rooted band Portugal. The Man and Vic Fischer, the sole surviving member of the Alaska Constitutional Convention, who has been outspoken in his criticism against Dunleavy’s budget cuts.
The 95-year-old told the crowd the constitution he helped author “worked extremely well until the current governor took over and is destroying Alaska.”
Many of those in attendance believed the effort wasn’t likely to succeed, though. People at the rally who were asked whether they thought there would be an override gave a spectrum of responses ranging from “unsure” to “probably not."
“I think it’s not looking very well, especially since our legislators aren’t playing by the rules,” said economics student Violet Kaye. “Everyone’s kind of in a petty argument about where to meet, so if we did have a chance to override his vetoes, then I think it’s been a little bit tarnished.”
The 38 legislators in Juneau, who remained there despite the governor’s June proclamation calling for a special session in his hometown of Wasilla, scheduled an override vote for Wednesday.
However, with the remaining 22 lawmakers in Wasilla per Dunleavy’s proclamation, it’s unlikely the 45 votes needed to reverse the vetoes will even be present. The legislature has until Friday to override the governor’s vetoes.
Lawmakers are sharply divided over whether the governor has the authority to dictate where the legislature can meet, and each group intends to stay where it is.
Despite those odds, the scene at Tuesday’s rally wasn’t one of resignation or even, really, anger. The air was filled with whoops, cheers, and live music courtesy of Alaska’s Grammy-winning rock band.
“We’re trying to keep a smile on our face,” said Janelle Matz of the Alaska State Council on the Arts.
The arts council is set to be slashed entirely if the vetoes go into effect. Matz and her colleagues shrouded the Osman Akan sculpture outside the Alaska Airlines Center — created, she said, using state funding — with a black cloth to symbolize what the arts council sees as a forthcoming “death of the arts.”
However, if the vote fails, opponents at the rally said they won’t give up there. Kaye suggested that more disruptive civil disobedience might be needed, while others hinted at a recall of the governor himself, something event organizer Trevor Storrs said wouldn’t be discussed from the stage.
In the meantime, event organizers rushed to corral the crowds of people penning post cards addressed to their legislators. Many, like Nick Weatherman, a part-time-comedian who attended the rally holding a sign that said “Mike Dunleavy is a lizard,” had already reached out to their legislators multiple times.
“I’m very hopeful to the very end,” Weatherman said.