A statewide effort got underway Thursday seeking to remove Gov. Mike Dunleavy from office. The first step for campaigners is to gather 28,501 signatures to start a recall petition.
Across coastal communities, campaigners say public anger is rising over line-item vetoes that eliminated about $400 million from the state’s budget and affecting everything from the university, health care and social services and more.
In downtown Ketchikan, Frankie Urquhart says the early birds were out in force. A dozen signatures came in during the first six minutes.
“I’ve had texts this morning from people asking, when are you going to be out there?” she said. “So I anticipate that we’re going to be getting some folks coming in all day long at least.”
In Juneau, a downtown gallery was buzzing at 10 a.m. with dozens of people signing in the middle of a work day.
Gallery owner Vivian Mork says she’s not usually a political person. But she says anxiety about the governor’s cost-cutting is bringing people together to have “long, complicated conversations” about the state’s future.
“And I think that’s one of the things that’s lovely about Alaskans is that so many diverse people sit right next to each other,” she said.
Pat Race is a Juneau cartoonist volunteering to collect signatures. He says he hopes this Recall effort puts pressure on the governor he’s poised to wield another round of vetoes. He says previous days and hours of public testimony haven’t swayed the Dunleavy administration.
“You know, many of the people who are signing these things today have taken time out of their lives in their work to go up and testify and they aren’t feeling heard and they aren’t feeling responded to,” Race said. “And so, they’re going to put their name down on this piece of paper and they’re going to apply pressure in this way.”
In the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, volunteers walked right up to cars caught in a Bethel traffic jam during the lunch hour to get signatures.
Kathleen Naneng took a moment to sign while her car idled. She says she’s not a fan of the governor focusing on paying out a large lump sum cash payment through the dividend checks at the expense of social services and other safety nets.
“I don’t want bigger dividends, I want people to be taken care of,” she said. “Because dividend time can be a really sad time in our area because people don’t spend it on the right things.”
In Kodiak, the local brewery doesn’t usually have a lot of people when it opens at noon. Thursday was different with 75 people signing in the first 90 minutes.
Donna Hurley came with her seven-year-old granddaughter. She’s angered that the governor vetoed $335,000 from the court’s budget to punish it for funding abortion services.
“He’s not the king — he’s acting like the king — but he’s not,” Hurley said. “He just needs to go.”
Republican lawmakers are divided over the governor’s agenda. But the party’s leadership is urging people to stand by the governor they elected last year.
“I think they ought to think twice about it before they sign any documents,” Alaska Republican Party Chairman Glenn Clary told CoastAlaska.
He wouldn’t comment on whether the state GOP has plans for a campaign to counter the Recall effort, which he said has a steep hill to climb.
“If you remember the governor won by 20,000 votes against an opponent who was a U.S. Senator, was the mayor of Anchorage,” he said, referring to Mark Begich.
Meanwhile in Yakutat, volunteers reported gathering 50 signatures in the first two hours. That in a community of about 450 people.
“That’s pretty good just for sitting in the local grocery store while people are working,” volunteer Mary Knutsen said.
Yakutat, she says, is bracing for the prospect of no state ferries for seven months. Plus the elimination of cash assistance for low-income seniors and cuts to pre-K and public education.
“Our school here has already faced massive budget cuts over the last decade, and the possibility of losing more funding, could you know just destroy our entire school district here,” she said by phone.
In a seven-page memo, the Recall Dunleavy group cited the grounds it intends to try and force the governor’s removal. They include: failure to appoint a state judge within 45 days; using state funds to promote a partisan agenda and misusing his line-item veto power.
The campaign is grassroots and so far staffed by mostly volunteer signature gatherers. But it has wealthy and politically connected backers including labor leaders, a coal mine owner and a lawyer that helped coordinate Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s successful 2010 write-in campaign.
Getting around 29,000 voters would only be the first step. A second petition gathering at least 71,000 signatures of registered voters will be needed in the second round. Then it would go to the Division of Elections overseen by Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer.
Alaska’s last formal recall effort against a sitting governor was in 1992 against Wally Hickel. It was subsequently dropped.
If Gov. Dunleavy is recalled in a special election, he would be automatically succeeded by the lieutenant governor.
With additional reporting from Krysti Shallenberger in Bethel, Kavitha George in Kodiak and Elizabeth Gabriel in Ketchikan.