On Friday, all exempt (EX) and partially exempt (PX) state employees (employees not in a union) received an email from Tuckerman Babcock requesting their resignations and asking them to re-apply for their jobs. Babcock is Governor-elect Mike Dunleavy’s Transition Chair and soon to be Chief of Staff when Dunleavy starts his term. He is also the former Chairman of the Alaska Republican Party. You can view the letter here:
It is customary for a new governor to ask for the resignations of political appointees. These include commissioners, deputy commissioners, directors, deputy directors, and the governor’s staff. However, it is unprecedented to ask for the resignations of all EX and PX employees. These include prosecutors, IT staff, secretaries, assistants, and more. To give some context, when Governor Walker was elected he asked for the resignations of about 250 people. According to state data, there are 1,454 PX and EX positions, nearly 10% of the state workforce.
Dunleavy’s Transition Team acknowledges that they are asking for resignations from a much larger group of state employees than in years past. According to Babcock, “Dunleavy just wants all of the state employees who are at-will – partially exempt, exempt employees – to affirmatively say, ‘Yes, I want to work for the Dunleavy administration, Not just bureaucracy staying in place, but sending out the message – Do you want to work on this agenda, do you want to work in this administration? Just let us know.”
Babcock appears to be taking his moves out of the Art Chance playbook. If you don’t know who this guy is, you are in for a real treat. Chance is a retired Director of Labor Relations for the State of Alaska and a perpetual Loose Unit. He routinely tells people he disagrees with on social media to “go fuck themselves” and that he will make their girlfriends’ “toes curl.” He occasionally writes for the GOP-sponsored blog, Must Read Alaska. On October 19, he wrote an article titled, ” A ‘to do’ list for the next governor.”
In the article he writes, “There are some appointees who are relatively apolitical subject matter experts, fire them anyway, let them miss a paycheck or two and re-apply; it will encourage the others.” I wonder if he or Babcock realize that if a state employee gets laid off, for even a day, the state has to cash out their leave. The liability for that could be in the millions. Chance must have been really excited that someone finally listened to him. He wrote this article yesterday, “He fired all those selfless public servants!”
The letter affected state prosecutors and assistant attorneys general. Since September, I have been working on a story on low morale in the Anchorage Prosecutors Office. I spoke with several prosecutors and support staff. The low morale stemmed from a variety of issues. An extreme workload, issues with Senate Bill (SB) 91, a feeling that the District Attorney and Attorney General were not going to bat for them, and an assortment of other issues. In fact, several prosecutors and support staff have left the Anchorage Prosecutors Office in the last few months. And it has been very difficult recruiting new attorneys.
However, I did not write that story at the request of some of the prosecutors I spoke with. They felt as bad as things were, they were going to improve under a new administration. Some of the people I spoke with were Democrats but were looking forward to Mike Dunleavy being governor because of his positions on crime, specifically SB 91. When this email came out on Friday, it felt like a gut punch to them all.
I have since spoken to more prosecutors from all over the state. They are not happy about this request. None of them see themselves as political appointees. They see themselves as public servants who work for the people of Alaska, not the governor. What this looks like, and feels like to many of them, is a loyalty pledge. What this has effectively done has turned a lot of prosecutors against Dunleavy who were previously hopeful that he was going to turn things around. Dunleavy and Babcock might have known that, if they actually talked to some prosecutors rather than make poorly thought out, partisan decisions.
It’s pretty low to send out this kind of email at 4 pm on a Friday, the Friday before Thanksgiving. If the goal is to ruin the holiday for prosecutors and create even lower morale, then they have succeeded. Many Anchorage prosecutors were working over the weekend, for no additional pay. They will be in court on Thanksgiving weekend while wondering if they will have a job in two weeks. Some are concerned about the impact of their resignations on their eligibility for the public service student loan repayment program.
The day after getting the first email, prosecutors received another email from Attorney General Janna Lindemuth. The Babcock email asked for the resignations by November 30. She is asking for them by November 27. That email stated:
All Department of Law exempt and partially exempt employees, including me, received the email from the new administration yesterday afternoon. While policy folks like me expected to receive such a request, I know this came as a surprise to many of you. To clear up any confusion, this is something the governor elect can request, whether directly or through the commissioners for the affected departments. AS 39.25.020; 44.17.040. As Attorney General, I also ask that you submit your resignation as set forth in yesterday’s email.
As a technical matter, resignations should be addressed to me, and made effective upon written acceptance by me or any new attorney general after noon on December 3, 2018. The letters should go to both me and the governor elect through the website. I ask that you provide me your letters (through your supervisor) by Tuesday November 27 so we can organize by section to provide context for the new administration. While the governor can direct the attorney general to hire or fire Department of Law employees, the statutory structure ensures that this decision is not made without the advice of the attorney general about the impact on the department’s ability to carry out its core mission. Please also be assured that we will have attorneys working with the new administration to make sure all employment decisions are consistent with state law.
I want to personally assure you that I spoke with the governor elect and his chief of staff earlier in the week about the role of the Attorney General in providing legal advice to the policy makers and what a great department we have representing the state agencies and prosecuting crime. I sensed no animus toward the department and I would be greatly surprised if the department looks much different than it does now after the new administration is formed. I promise I will continue to advocate for the department and all of you individually.
I attach below a draft form letter with suggested language for both civil AAG’s and criminal ADA’s. Each of you are free to choose how to respond, but I hope each of you will indicate interest in continuing to represent the state. You all do a terrific job, and I thank you all for your service.
I reached out by phone and text message to Babcock and Sarah Erkmann Ward, the Transition Communications Director, to ask specifically about the prosecutors. Neither have gotten back to me. It seems that Babcock and Dunleavy are paranoid and worried about the ‘Deep State.’ In their effort to shake things up they have turned a lot of good and dedicated prosecutors against them. In fact, Babcock told the Anchorage Daily News, “If you don’t want to express a positive desire, just don’t submit your letter of resignation. And then you’ve let us know you just wish to be terminated.”
Here is what former Anchorage District Attorney Clint Campion told me about how he feels about this:
As a former Anchorage District Attorney, I am concerned that requiring all state prosecutors to submit their resignations has already had a devastating impact on their morale and welfare. Alaska’s prosecutors are not politically motivated but this step by the incoming administration signals that prosecutors’ support of the administration’s political agenda trumps their commitment to enforcing Alaska’s criminal laws. This nearly unprecedented step by the Dunleavy administration will make it more difficult to recruit and retain prosecutors and it will not assist the Governor to fulfill his campaign pledge to make Alaska safer.
Here are some quotes from prosecutors, who wish to remain anonymous, about how they feel about all of this:
It’s disappointing. We were all very hopeful for the new change of guard.
This is affecting my entire livelihood. I currently have no plans to submit my resignation and would prefer to be terminated than work under the new administration if it is going to treat me like this. I am already in the process of (1) seeking jobs in other states and (2) seeking legal advice on protecting my rights.
There was hope on the horizon for our office the past few weeks with a planned reorganization. I was assigned to the special team aimed at cases involving domestic violence and sexual assault. I was thrilled to be a part of that team and to work with other brilliant attorneys in tackling the severe issue in Alaska of violence against women in particular. Now the office may be losing many of those team members as we are committed to upholding the law; not to declaring allegiance to a despot. That is against my ethics as an attorney and against my morals as a woman working for the people of a State I love.
I am not signing a forced letter of resignation, but it is not because I want to be fired. I work alongside outstanding APD detectives every day to ensure that murders, robberies, sexual assaults, and sexual abuses are prosecuted vigorously and those people who harm our women and children are held accountable for the heinous crimes they commit. Prosecution is certainly not a job that I do for the salary, benefits, or glory. Instead, the men and women I work with every day are dedicated to making their community a safer place to live. We do this job because we believe it is important.
Yesterday, the Governor-elect threatened to fire each one of us. He asked for our resignations with no warning and told the media, not us, that if we do not resign, we will be fired. We were asked to pledge our loyalty to the new Governor. I’m not resigning because I pledge my loyalty to the Constitution, the laws of the State of Alaska, and the victims of the horrendous, violent crimes. Pledging my loyalty to any one man means that he is above the law and that is something I will not stand for.
Further, the Governor-elect asked for the resignation of approximately 1,500 employees, not just political appointees. In every administration change, the top political appointees are asked to resign. However, this time, Governor-elect Dunleavy has asked every at-will employee to resign and re-apply for their jobs. We have children, mortgages, federal student loans, debt, and bills. Our jobs are being held over our heads with no promise of continued employment. We are left with a Hobson’s choice – resign and reapply for your job with no assurance that you will maintain employment or refuse to resign and be fired.
Should Governor-Elect Dunleavy wish for us to continue to vigorously prosecute sex offenders, murders, thieves, and domestic violence abusers, myself and others are happy to continue to do so. However, It will not be by a forced loyalty oath. Instead, his first act in office may be to fire all of the prosecutors and when that happens, I have one piece of advice of the citizens of Anchorage – be vigilant, be aware, and lock your doors. There will not be anyone to request bail, file charges, or take cases to trial. You can’t just hire a whole new office of prosecutors – they start off handling misdemeanors. It requires experience to be able to handle violent crimes and that experience has been asked to resign.
The chances of this backfiring are high. As I previously stated, the Anchorage Prosecutors Office has lost several prosecutors over the last few months and they are having a very hard time recruiting new ones. In large part due to low morale. This won’t help. If this is any indication about how things will go in the new Dunleavy administration, it is shaping up to be extremely partisan. Decisions like this do not demonstrate leadership. For someone whose campaign focused heavily on crime, going after the people who prosecute criminals makes no sense.