Group seeking Dunleavy recall isn’t stopping at minimum as it continues to gather signatures

Recall Dunleavy volunteers Frankie Urquhart, left, Jessie Chapman and Pat Chapman gather signatures on Aug. 1 in downtown Ketchikan for a petition to remove Gov. Mike Dunleavy from office. (Photo by Elizabeth Gabriel/KRBD)

What do you do when you’ve gathered enough signatures for a recall application?

For the organizers of the campaign to recall Gov. Mike Dunleavy, the answer is: Keep going.

While they say the effort passed the minimum under state law, they’re planning to go through early September. Recall Dunleavy campaign chair Meda DeWitt has two words on whether the group considered stopping at the minimum: “No way.”

DeWitt said signature gatherers have heard an outpouring of concern about how the governor has done his job.

“We have been able to collect 29,577 signatures,” she said. “While that number by itself may not be impressive, the fact that we did it in two weeks is historical.”

That’s more a thousand more than the number required to start a review of the recall application by Alaska Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai. But the campaign plans to gather signatures through the end of the Alaska State Fair on Sept. 2. That will provide a buffer in case some signers gave incorrect information.

Since the effort started on Aug. 1, Dunleavy has reversed his position on several line-item vetoes that helped inspire the recall.

Meda DeWitt chairs the Recall Dunleavy campaign. She visited Alaska Public Media for an interview on Aug. 16, 2019. (Photo by Wesley Early/Alaska Public Media)

Meda DeWitt chairs the Recall Dunleavy campaign. The campaign says it’s met the minimum required to advance the recall application to a review by the state Division of Elections. (Photo by Wesley Early/Alaska Public Media)

But DeWitt said the changes won’t deter the campaign.

“It’s not like it was an outlier disenfranchised group over there,” she said. “He did it to all of us. And we have a long memory.”

DeWitt said that if Dunleavy again advances more than $300 million in cuts to public education — like he did in his original budget proposal in February — it would strengthen the recall campaign.

“If he does provide cuts to K-12, it will just energize this movement further,” she said. “But people want this to happen fast. They want him out of the office now. … We do not want him to cause anymore harm, and he would do us all a favor if he just resigned.”

Once the campaign submits the application, Fenumiai will begin her review. She’ll seek a legal opinion on whether the grounds for recall in the application hold up under state law. The law requires a recall to be based on lack of fitness, incompetence, neglect of duties, or corruption.

Scott Kendall is legal adviser to the campaign and was chief of staff to former Gov. Bill Walker. Kendall said he and other lawyers reviewed the entire history of recalls in the state, as well as all of the related court decisions.

“If this thing isn’t a valid recall, I don’t know what is,” he said.

The application alleges four grounds for recall:

  • Dunleavy failed to appoint a Palmer Superior Court judge within the legally-required 45 days;
  • unconstitutionally misused state funds on advertisements with partisan statements for supporters and against opponents;
  • violated the separation of powers by vetoing court funding over decisions upholding the validity of Medicaid funding for abortions, and by vetoing constitutionally-required health, education and welfare funding; and
  • incompetently vetoed Medicaid funding he told the Legislature he didn’t want to veto, which would have cost the state $40 million if the Legislature hadn’t fixed it.

Kendall pointed to Dunleavy’s veto of court funding as unique.

Scott Kendall, former chief of staff for former Gov. Bill Walker, speaks at a January 2017 presentation. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

“That sort of attack, and the specificity of that attack, is absolutely unprecedented,” he said. “I’ve never seen something like that.”

Kendall said the crucial question for the Division of Elections — and for the courts, if it comes to that — is not whether Dunleavy should be recalled, but whether the listed grounds for recall are factual. And he said it won’t make a difference that Dunleavy reversed some of his positions.

“As a legal prospect, you know, these actions we allege broke the law happened,” he said. “They were consummated. So I think from a legal aspect, absolutely not, he hasn’t mitigated anything.”

Kendall said the campaign isn’t slowing down after the veto reversals.

“If someone only does the right thing under the threat of recall, why would we believe he would do the right thing if we let off?”

For his part, Dunleavy has denied that his veto decisions have anything to do with the recall drive.

Kenneth Jacobus, the former counsel to the Alaska Republican Party, has followed the recall process, though he hasn’t done formal legal research against — or for — the recall. And he’s skeptical of much of the legal reasoning behind the recall.

He said the mistake over Medicaid funding doesn’t meet the legal threshold for incompetence.

“You know, nobody’s perfect, especially when you’re dealing with all of the numbers and all of the battling that’s been going on,” he said. “I don’t think it represents incompetence — it just was a mistake, and it’s something which was corrected.”

Jacobus added that there’s no question that Dunleavy had the authority to veto court funding, even if publicly linking it to abortion decisions was unusual.

“I think it’s tacky, but I can’t say it’s illegal,”  he said.

Jacobus predicted that Alaskans seeing the governor work with the Legislature to close the state’s budget gap would take the wind out of the sails of the recall effort.

“If they want to defeat Dunleavy, then they’re going to have to do it at the next election,” he said.

The recall campaign plans to use the addresses it’s gathered for the signatures on the petition to mail the recall signers when it’s time for the second stage — a petition that will require more than 71,000 signatures for the recall to be placed on the ballot.

Campaign leaders expect the recall election to happen within a year.

Dunleavy cites public response in veto reversals

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