Dunleavy recall group ends campaign, still short of signatures needed to force a vote

Two years after beginning a campaign to remove Gov. Mike Dunleavy from office, the group seeking his recall has ended its campaign without forcing a statewide vote.

Meda DeWitt, chair of Recall Dunleavy, announced the decision in an opinion column published by the Daily News.

Launched in 2019, the recall campaign lost momentum during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was still 10 months from the final deadline to submit a completed recall petition, but now that candidates have begun campaigning for the 2022 general election, recall supporters said it makes more sense to spend effort there than in a special recall election.

“I think it’s been a long time coming,” said Pat Race, a Juneau artist and small businessman, of the decision to stop the campaign. Race was a member of the Recall Dunleavy steering committee.

Race said signature-gathering “hit a wall” during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that it now makes more sense to focus on the 2022 election rather than forcing a special election.

Petitioners had until June to submit 71,252 signatures from registered Alaska voters to the Alaska Division of Elections. That’s the threshold for recall, but as the 2022 election approached, a recall appeared increasingly irrelevant.

“We’re shredding the booklets,” DeWitt said.


DeWitt said petitioners could have gathered the remaining signatures they needed, “But is that the best way to leverage people’s time and attention? It’s not.”

“As time marches on, we’re nearing a new election cycle. And it’s time to put our efforts into that, into electing a governor who can do the work without sowing so much chaos,” Race said.

Cynthia Henry is the head of Keep Dunleavy, a group opposing the recall.

“They know, as we have known for a long time, that their efforts would have failed had we had a recall election. Their side would have not prevailed. The governor would have prevailed. So I guess I’m a little surprised it took them so long,” she said.

Dunleavy announced last week that he will run for re-election.

Soon after that announcement, staff for the Alaska Public Offices Commission told Keep Dunleavy and Recall Dunleavy that the start of the governor’s campaign means both groups would have to start disclosing their three largest donors. The commission is Alaska’s campaign finance regulator.

To date, neither group has said how much money they have raised, where that money has come from, or how that money has been spent.

In her column, DeWitt said she was worried about the possibility of retaliation against donors or those who signed the petition, which contributed to the decision to stop the campaign.

Henry said Keep Dunleavy shut down its website after Dunleavy started his reelection campaign.

Tom Lucas, campaign disclosure coordinator for the Alaska Public Offices Commission, said both groups are forbidden from donating any remaining recall or anti-recall money to a candidate.

“I mean, they could have a huge party if they wanted to, they can give it back to their contributors. But what they cannot do is give it to ... any of the candidates,” he said.

Henry said she doesn’t know what Keep Dunleavy will do with its remaining money; that decision will be made in the coming days. Recall Dunleavy doesn’t have much money left, said Race and other officials. All declined to say how much was raised and spent.

Before abandoning its campaign, Recall Dunleavy gathered about 88% of the signatures it needed to force a statewide vote, according to figures provided by the group.

As of Aug. 21, it had gathered 62,373 of the 71,252 signatures it needed. Dewitt said the names of signatories will not be released, even to Dunleavy opponents who might use the contact information to rally opponents of the governor.

The recall movement was sparked by Dunleavy’s 2019 proposal to steeply cut state services and divert municipal revenue to pay for a larger Permanent Fund dividend.

Petitioners gathered a first round of signatures in the summer of that year, but the Alaska Division of Elections — relying on legal advice from Dunleavy’s attorney general, Kevin Clarkson — initially rejected the petition. The recall group appealed, and a Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the recall. The Alaska Supreme Court subsequently upheld that ruling.

Those rulings permitted the recall group to begin gathering signatures to force a statewide vote, but the COVID-19 pandemic halted most activity soon after it began at the start of 2020.


“The recall folks wasted a lot of time and resources on an effort that was solely politically motivated. And that’s unfortunate,” Henry said.

Joelle Hall, president of the Alaska AFL-CIO and a member of the Recall Dunleavy steering committee, says Henry is wrong and the recall wasn’t a waste.

Since the recall campaign began, Dunleavy has not proposed budget cuts as large as those he proposed in 2019, nor has he used as many vetoes.

“I think it was very effective,” Hall said. “The expressed goal was to recall him. Clearly, we didn’t accomplish that. But I think we were successful in presenting a tool by which we could express our displeasure with his agenda.”

James Brooks

James Brooks was a Juneau-based reporter for the ADN from 2018 to May 2022.