The election of Mike Dunleavy last November has ushered in an era of craziness in Alaska politics that has not been seen since the days of former Governor Sarah Palin. Actually, things are probably way looser under Governor Dunleavy then they ever were under Palin.
Dunleavy got off to a rough start when he declared that all exempt State employees would have to submit a de facto loyalty pledge. Then things really went off the rails when he unveiled his budget in February. His proposed cuts of $1.6 billion and insistence on a $3,000 dividend – plus the payback of the previously vetoed dividends – forced Alaskans, and the Legislature, to face a stark choice: big cuts or a big PFD. The Legislature pushed back hard on Dunleavy’s budget and ended up with a budget with far fewer cuts than he had proposed. Keep in mind, this budget is billions less than budgets passed in previous years.
Determined to get his cuts, Dunleavy vetoed hundreds of millions of dollars from the budget. When the Legislature had the opportunity to override his vetoes during a special session, a third of the Legislature met in Wasilla while the rest remained in Juneau. The Legislature lacked the votes to override any of the vetoes. Later, when they were all back in Juneau, they were able to pass bills restoring some of the cuts as well as fund the capital budget.
Dunleavy’s approach to the budget has created both anger and fear for many Alaskans. There is now an organized recall effort against him. The group was able to collect over 49,000 signatures in just over a month. They were only required to collect just over 28,000 to submit their recall petition. There is no doubt the group has organization and momentum.
Article 11, Section 8 of the Alaska Constitution states:
All elected public officials in the State, except judicial officers, are subject to recall by the voters of the State or political subdivision from which elected. Procedures and grounds for recall shall be prescribed by the legislature.
In Alaska, the grounds for recall are (1) lack of fitness, (2) incompetence, (3) neglect of duties, or (4) corruption.
The group’s stated grounds for recall are:
- Governor Dunleavy violated Alaska law by refusing to appoint a judge to the Palmer Superior Court within 45 days of receiving nominations.
- Governor Dunleavy violated Alaska Law and the Constitution, and misused state funds by unlawfully and without proper disclosure, authorizing and allowing the use of state funds for partisan purposes to purchase electronic advertisements and direct mailers making partisan statements about political opponents and supporters.
- Governor Dunleavy violated separation-of-powers by improperly using the line-item veto to: (a) attack the judiciary and the rule of law; and (b) preclude the legislature from upholding its constitutional Health, Education and Welfare responsibilities.
- Governor Dunleavy acted incompetently when he mistakenly vetoed approximately $18 million more than he told the legislature in official communications he intended to strike. Uncorrected, the error would cause the state to lose over $40 million in additional federal Medicaid funds.
Let’s be honest, these aren’t the real reasons for the recall. These are convenient excuses. Every administration makes mistakes and missteps, especially in its early months, and if this is the standard for a recall then every governor could face one. The real reason for the recall is that people are furious about the budget cuts. I don’t blame them. Personally, I think Dunleavy’s approach to deal with the deficit went too far, too fast. But you can’t override the votes cast in a democratic election and recall someone because you don’t like their policies. So how did we get here?
Candidate Dunleavy promised Alaskans mega PFD checks. Not just a full $3,000 PFD this year, but also back pay on the previous PFDs that were reduced. This totaled $6,700! That sounded real good to Alaskans, who already pay no statewide income or sales taxes. How did Alaskans think Dunleavy was going to make that happen? The truth is most people didn’t think about it. They just wanted that big check.
Many people are also motivated by anger with how the election played out. Mark Begich entered the race late, splitting progressive and moderate voters between Democrat Mark Begich and Independent Bill Walker. With the electoral math overwhelmingly on his side, Dunleavy was able to skip debates with little consequence and dodge detailed policy questions. Begich and Walker spent much of the campaign locked in a bitter battle for second place. By the time Walker dropped out just weeks before the election, the die had been cast.
Politics is quickly becoming a win at any cost game. The recall effort has significant support. But whether or not the recall petition is certified, the matter will inevitably be challenged in court. A protracted court battle will only deepen the current political divisions in our state. Regardless of the outcome, the wounds will take many years to heal.
Governor Dunleavy has made a lot of mistakes. But he was democratically elected by Alaska voters in a free and fair election. A $6,700 check sounded great and few voters really stopped and asked how that was possible. When Alaska voters elected Dunleavy we got exactly what we deserved.