Top Alaska elections official rejects Dunleavy recall

Gov. Mike Dunleavy addresses the 2019 Alaska Federation of Natives convention at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks on Oct. 17, 2019.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy addresses the 2019 Alaska Federation of Natives convention at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks on Oct. 17. State Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai on Monday rejected an application to hold a election to recall Dunleavy from office. (Photo by Nat Herz/Alaska Public Media)

Update (Tuesday, 1:23 p.m.) — Andrew Kitchenman, KTOO and Alaska Public Media

The group seeking to recall Gov. Mike Dunleavy has sued over the rejection of its recall application. Recall Dunleavy filed the lawsuit in Anchorage Superior Court on Tuesday against the state Division of Elections and its director, Gail Fenumiai. (Read more.)

Original story

The attempt to recall Gov. Mike Dunleavy was rejected on Monday. The state’s elections director did not certify the recall application, drawing from a recommendation by Attorney General Kevin Clarkson.

Clarkson said in a statement, “As a matter of law, recall cannot be premised upon disagreements with the elected official’s policies.”

Clarkson said the recall application failed to show Dunleavy committed neglect of duty, and that mere procedural or technical failures are not enough to meet the grounds for recall.

Dunleavy said in a statement that Clarkson’s opinion “appears to be well reasoned. As I have always said, the allegations by the recall group are not legitimate reasons to overturn the outcome of the statewide election held barely a year ago.”

“My administration will continue governing the state as we have since the election in a manner that is consistent with the fundamentals of good government,” Dunleavy added.

Recall supporters say they will challenge the decision.

Recall Dunleavy lawyer Jahna Lindemuth said in a statement that the application met the standard under Alaska law “without question.”

“This rejection is without basis, and we will now turn to the courts for a remedy,” Lindemuth said.

Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai rejected an application to hold an election to recall Gov. Mike Dunleavy. (Photo by Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media)

Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai issued the decision on the day she had set as the deadline.

There were four grounds for recall listed on the application, saying that 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.

Clarkson rejected each point. Clarkson wrote that:

  • missing the 45-day deadline to appoint the judge was a technical and not a substantive violation, in part because the position was never vacant;
  • the recall failed to show that the advertisements had partisan statements, or that Dunleavy was aware of or directly involved with the ad spending;
  • the application’s description of the veto of court, health education and welfare funding lacks detail and makes it impossible for Dunleavy to respond, and that the vetoes fell squarely within the governor’s constitutional line-item veto authority; and
  • the Medicaid veto was a technical error, that any governor or legislator could be recalled over similar grounds, and that the governor was acting within his authority.

Much of the recall debate has focused on Dunleavy’s budget vetoes. Dunleavy has also been criticized for other budget proposals. The Legislature enacted some of the proposals, including a $25 million reduction to the University of Alaska budget and a $40 million reduction to the Alaska Marine Highway System. Some of the governor’s other proposals didn’t advance, including a $314 million reduction to public education.

Dunleavy has said the cuts were needed to balance a budget that would pay for full permanent fund dividends under a 1982 state law.

State law lists four grounds for recall: lack of fitness, incompetence, neglect of duties, or corruption.

Recall organizers said they submitted more than 49,000 signatures with the application. State law requires there be 28,501 valid signatures.

If the application had been accepted, recall supporters would have been required to gather more than 71,000 signatures.

Under state law, Dunleavy must propose next year’s budget by Dec. 15.

This story has been updated.

Andrew Kitchenman

State Government Reporter, Alaska Public Media & KTOO

State government plays an outsized role in the life of Alaskans. As the state continues to go through the painful process of deciding what its priorities are, I bring Alaskans to the scene of a government in transition.

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