Republican and Democrat voters united by Dunleavy recall campaign

From left: Sylvia Lange, Kelly Weaverling, Chip Ethier and Alexis Osborn. Through drives like the one held Aug. 1, 2019, at the Reluctant Fisherman Inn, organizers gathered 611 signatures for an application to petition to recall Gov. Mike Dunleavy. Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

A campaign to recall Gov. Mike Dunleavy has collected 611 signatures from Cordova residents, organizers report. Dunleavy is a Republican, although this seems of little relevance to the recall effort, which has drawn support from fellow Republicans as well as Democrats, independents and the previously apolitical.

“It’s about the law and the Constitution and ethical governance, and that’s not a partisan thing,” said Barb Jewell, leader of the signature-gathering campaign in Cordova. “We’ve had Democrats and Republicans. We’ve had people who’ve just turned 18 right up to people in their 90s… I’ve also spoken with some folks who were worried about putting their signature on the petition because they’re concerned about retaliation, which I thought was kind of interesting.”

The 611 signatures tallied on Wednesday, Aug. 7, approached the 686 votes cast by residents in the previous state election, Jewell pointed out.

Organizers accuse Dunleavy of illegally using state funds for partisan political ads and of incompetently jeopardizing $40 million in Medicaid funding to the state. To begin the process of removing Dunleavy from office, organizers across Alaska must gather 28,501 signatures, equal to 10 percent of the number of voters in the previous election. After these initial signatures are certified by the state, organizers will be able to open a 71,253-signature petition to recall Dunleavy from office. A buffer of extra signatures will be necessary to compensate for signatures thrown out due to incorrect information or illegible penmanship, organizers said.

Though the signature drives held by Jewell’s team may be an expression of political frustration, the mood at these events has been relaxed and sociable, with signers trading jokes at Dunleavy’s expense. Sylvia Lange, who hosted a signature-gathering event at her business, the Reluctant Fisherman Inn, sipped a virgin salmonberry cocktail and bantered with residents who stopped by to sign the application.

“The moment he took away our ferry, the die was cast,” Lange said. “The people who elected this guy are the ones who didn’t show up to vote. There’s lots of room for remorse about the election.”

Signatures were collected at other venues, such as The Whale’s Tale café, and at booths set up along First Street. Boats were also used to gather signatures from fishermen elsewhere in Prince William Sound, Jewell said.

Jewell believes the recall campaign has helped boost political engagement. She’s found herself stopped on the street by newly registered young voters who wanted to sign the petition application, she said.

Even if the recall campaign falters before the 71,253-signature petition is finally certified, the campaign will have sent a clear message that Dunleavy has failed to live up to his obligations to voters, Jewell said.