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Campaign launches to recall Gov. Dunleavy

Gov. Mike Dunleavy talks and answers questions about his recent budget vetoes at the start of a meeting with members of his cabinet in Anchorage on July 15, 2019. (Marc Lester / ADN)

Organizers behind a newly formed group seeking to remove Gov. Mike Dunleavy from office plan to begin gathering signatures around Alaska on Thursday, amid widespread dissatisfaction over Dunleavy’s budget cuts and other executive actions, they said.

The Recall Dunleavy initiative took a formal step last week, organizing as a group with the Alaska Public Offices Commission.

Recall organizers announced co-chairs of the signature-gathering effort in a statement to reporters Monday night: Joe Usibelli, chair of Usibelli Coal Mine; Vic Fischer, a former Democratic state senator and delegate to the 1955 Alaska Constitutional Convention; and Arliss Sturgulewski, a former Republican state senator from Anchorage.

“People from all regions of Alaska have had enough," wrote Usibelli, 80, and his wife Peggy Shumaker, former Alaska state writer laureate, in an opinion article distributed Monday night. "Urban and rural leaders, Republicans, Democrats, and non-partisans, want the governor gone.”

It will be the first formal attempt to oust an Alaska governor by recall since 1992, when an effort to remove Gov. Wally Hickel and Lt. Gov. Jack Coghill had partly survived legal challenges but was eventually dropped, organizers said.

More recently, a group in 2016 had started recall efforts against Gov. Bill Walker after he reduced the size of Permanent Fund dividend checks, news accounts show, but no recall petition was ever formally issued.

Earlier this month, Dunleavy dismissed the budding recall effort as part of the political process. He said he did not think a petition would meet legal standards to appear on the ballot.

“Whenever you make difficult decisions and people are involved ... such as these vetoes, this is not necessarily a shock or surprise,” he said.

Usibelli said by phone Tuesday that he had voted for Dunleavy but doesn’t support the $444 million in vetoes and the impact they will have on state services.

“We don’t understand the thinking, or the lack of thinking, that went into the vetoes,” Usibelli said.

“We care a whole lot about social programs, and community building, and not having infrastructure broken,” Shumaker said by phone. “We have to recruit people to work in our business (Usibelli). It matters to them to have a good quality of life, and without the Alaska State Council on the Arts and without other things he chose to veto, we don’t have a good quality of life.”

Organizers are planning signature-gathering events on Thursday in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau and other communities around the state, according to a statement released Monday night.

The Anchorage event will take place at the Cuddy Family Midtown Park amphitheater from 4-7 p.m., according to the group’s Facebook page of events.

The grounds-for-recall statement, limited to 200 words, lists grievances involving “neglect of duties, incompetence, and lack of fitness,” including:

• Asserting that Dunleavy broke state law in April by refusing to fill a vacancy on the Palmer Superior Court within deadlines, and by using state funds for partisan purposes by buying Facebook ads and sending direct mailers to support his agenda.

• Charging that he violated the separation of powers by using his line-item veto power to attack the rule of law and the judiciary, referring to his decision to withhold $334,000 in funding from the state court system, an action his administration tied to the Alaska Supreme Court’s rulings on abortions.

• Charging he violated separation of powers by using vetoes to prevent the Legislature from “upholding its constitutional health, education and welfare responsibilities.

A seven-page memo describing the allegations, and provided by Meda DeWitt, a recall organizer and spokesperson, says organizers have consulted with “numerous election law experts as well as former attorney generals and former members of the judiciary" to meet the legal grounds for recall.

“Governor Dunleavy has put forward a long list of vetoes, saying we cannot afford access to medical care, access to a properly-funded university, access to art and culture,” the opinion article from Usibelli and Shumaker said. “The governor would have us neglect our obligations to elder care and Head Start, to shelter for the homeless. The governor thinks we cannot afford to fund scholarships that Alaska’s brightest students have worked hard to earn, scholarships already awarded."

“We cannot allow a governor who doesn’t understand the concept of separation of powers to remain in power,” the article said. “He cannot be allowed to attack the judiciary because courts make decisions he doesn’t like. He cannot be allowed to keep the legislature from upholding its constitutional responsibilities to fund programs that provide for the health, education, and well-being of Alaska’s people.”

To apply with the Division of Elections, overseen by Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer, organizers must gather 28,501 signatures from registered voters, or 10% of the number of voters in the state’s last general election.

If the petition is certified, and survives potential legal battles, the organizers must complete a second round of signature-gathering, this one acquiring signatures of 71,252 registered voters, or 25% of the number of voters in the last general election.

That will also need to be certified before an election can be held 60 to 90 days later.

“Recalls are not easy, and they are not necessarily fun because of what it is about," said Derek Reed, a recall group organizer and Anchorage high school teacher. "But there’s a reason the constitution allows for this. Sometimes the public has to get involved to make a change.”

There’s no language in state law specifying how many districts the recall signatures must be gathered in. Recall organizers said they can collect all the signatures in Anchorage if they wanted to, but will include all parts of Alaska because the dissatisfaction with the governor is so high across the state.

Organizers had originally planned to launch the petition drive in mid-July, but delayed that effort to make sure other groups of disgruntled voters around the state could help organize, said DeWitt, chair of the APOC-registered committee.

“This is not just one organization," she said. “This has been springing up all over the state.”

Funding amounts and sources for the effort will be disclosed later, when that’s required by law, she said.

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