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More court fights await, but both sides now believe vote on Dunleavy recall is likely

  • Author: James Brooks
  • Updated: January 14
  • Published January 13

Gov. Mike Dunleavy, backed by the state's commissioners, presents his proposal for the fiscal year 2021 on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019 at the Capitol in Juneau. (James Brooks | Anchorage Daily News)

The Alaska Supreme Court still has to speak, but Alaskans in favor of the recall and those against are preparing for an election campaign.

State law mandates an election no more than 90 days after a recall campaign is certified ready for voters, and both sides now see that election as likely, even though opponents continue to seek a legal offramp and proponents have yet to collect the necessary signatures.

On Friday, hours after an Anchorage Superior Court judge ruled that signature-gathering may take place, Gov. Mike Dunleavy appeared at a fundraiser hosted by the group organized to oppose the recall. Speaking to reporters, Dunleavy said he’s “prepared for the real possibility of an election.”

That vote would be a straight up-or-down decision. If voters say yes to the recall, Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer becomes governor. If voters say no, Dunleavy remains in office.

“We’re going to do everything we can to be prepared to win,” Dunleavy said, adding that he’s also prepared to appeal Friday’s decision to the state supreme court.

Recall Dunleavy, the group that has pushed the recall since July, has always believed that an election is inevitable, campaign manager Claire Pywell said.

“We have (believed), but we knew there were skeptics along the way," she said.

The core message of the recall campaign, Pywell said, is that the governor broke campaign promises made before his election, and once in office, broke state law.

The recall campaign began in earnest in July, after the governor’s decision to veto more than $400 million from the state budget. Some Alaskans began seeking Dunleavy’s recall as far back as February, when the governor proposed an austere budget that included severe cuts to state services.

Stand Tall With Mike is the group opposing the recall, and in a written statement, chairwoman Lindsay Williams said its core message is that the recall is politically motivated, unnecessarily divisive, and even though some Alaskans may disagree with Dunleavy, is inappropriate.

“Elections should matter,” she wrote, referencing Dunleavy’s election in 2018.

The stated reasons for recall are so broad, she wrote, that if they are upheld, the precedent would allow a state official to be recalled for any reason.

“That’s not what Alaska’s founders wanted, and it’s why they decided against allowing political recalls such as this. We have faith that the Supreme Court will take another look at this, and we look forward to working with all Alaskans to solve our shared challenges,” she wrote.

Recall Dunleavy is preparing for what it calls “Phase 2,” where supporters gather the signatures of at least 71,252 registered voters — equivalent to one in four of the voters in the 2018 general election. A first round of petitioning, required for the Division of Elections to consider the recall application, collected 49,000 signatures in five weeks.

Those signatures are necessary to force a vote, and Recall Dunleavy is already training volunteer signature-gatherers for the effort. On Sunday, some gathered for a training session at Anchorage’s IBEW union hall.

Recall Dunleavy intends to leverage this network of signature-gatherers for the election itself, not just the petitioning phase. By gathering names and contact information, then keeping participants informed and motivated, it has an automatic base of support when votes are cast.

“We anticipate that a lot of those folks will continue to stay engaged,” Pywell said.

The anti-recall side doesn’t yet have the same network of volunteers, but it is raising money in earnest. Friday’s event with the governor was the first major Alaska fundraiser for Stand Tall With Mike, which is supporting him.

It’s difficult to know how much money has been raised on either side of the recall because neither side is required to disclose its contributions and expenses unless the issue reaches the ballot. The Daily News has asked both sides to voluntarily disclose information.

Friday’s event raised approximately $65,000 for the anti-recall cause, according to figures provided by Stand Tall With Mike. A November fundraiser for Recall Dunleavy in Sitka raised $45,800 for that cause, according to reporting by KCAW-FM. The group has already had a major fundraiser in Fairbanks, and one is planned in Anchorage Jan. 23.

At the Stand Tall With Mike event, Dunleavy was accompanied by former Republican Fairbanks state legislators John Binkley and Pete Kelly.

Binkley said Monday that he doesn’t think it’s a foregone conclusion the Supreme Court will allow the recall effort to go forward, but “it’s a much higher bar now for the opponents of the recall," since they now have to convince the Supreme Court to overturn a legal decision, not sustain a prior success.

Binkley’s family owns the Anchorage Daily News, but Binkley does not influence news coverage. Asked about his appearance at the event, he said, “The news is the news, and we don’t at all try to influence that. We just have to make certain that our opinions stay on the opinion page.”

Among those in the audience Friday was Jamie Allard, a candidate for Anchorage Assembly. Allard said she doesn’t have a role with Stand Tall With Mike but wanted to show her support for the governor.

She said the recall makes her feel “almost like our votes don’t count because the Left didn’t get their way. ... Just because you don’t get your way doesn’t mean you should go out and use the court.”