Recall Dunleavy legal team challenges rejected application

Sylvia Lange: See you in court, Alaskans don’t treat each other that way

A group of supporters of a statewide effort to recall Gov. Mike Dunleavy delivered these seven boxes of petitions containing 49,006 signatures to the Division of Elections in Anchorage on Sept. 5. Photo by Margaret Bauman/for The Cordova Times

A legal battle over efforts to recall Gov. Mike Dunleavy is underway in Alaska Superior Court in the wake of Attorney General Kevin Clarkson’s rejection of the recall application. The application accompanied petitions with signatures of over 49,000 Alaskans.

Attorneys representing the recall campaign filed their complaint in Alaska Superior Court in Anchorage on Tuesday, Nov. 5, saying that in following Clarkson’s advice Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai has denied Alaska citizens the opportunity to lawfully exercise their rights to the recall process on grounds of neglect of duties, incompetence and lack of fitness for the office of governor.

Clarkson’s rejection of the application was completely expected, said Scott Kendall, counsel to Recall Dunleavy.

“After all, he was one of Gov. Dunleavy’s chef advisors as he took the radical and unacceptable actions that gave rise to the recall,” Kendall said.

“To an entirely unprecedented degree, Alaskans are demonstrating broad nonpartisan support for the recall, standing tall to engage directly in the political process to put our state back on track,” said Meda DeWitt, chairperson of Recall Dunleavy.

Fenumiai announced on Monday, Nov. 4, that certification of a petition to recall Dunleavy was denied, sparking an immediate announcement from the recall committee that her decision would be challenged in court.

Despite having sufficient qualifying signatures and meeting technical requirements of recall statutes, the Alaska Department of Law concluded the statement of grounds for recall was both factually and legally insufficient to meet statutory grounds for recall, Fenumiai said.

According to Clarkson, whose opinion Fenumiai sought, all four allegations stated as reasons for the recall failed to meet the listed grounds for the recall.

A copy of Clarkson’s opinion is available online.

“I’m not surprised,” said Cordova Mayor Clay Koplin of Clarkson’s decision.

Neither was Barb Jewell, a Cordova participant in the recall effort.

“I think they are mistaken in identifying the recall effort as partisan,” she said. “It’s across the spectrum. They are also mistaken in dismissing the legal grounds under which the petition was filed.I think it has a very sound legal basis. This isn’t about disagreeing with the [Dunleavy] administration policies or regulations. It is about expecting my elected official to act within the boundaries of the law.”

While she disagrees with Dunleavy’s decision regarding funding the Alaska Marine Highway System, which she said hurts the state economically, she signed on for the recall before funding cuts for AMHS were announced “because of the way Dunleavy was filling positions, not filling positions, acting in a way that is against the law and unethical,” she said. “I can’t speak to the governor’s intentions, but intentions don’t matter. Actions matter.”

“See you in court and donate to the Recall Dunleavy campaign,” said Sylvia Lange, owner of The Reluctant Fisherman Inn.

“The legal grounds are one thing, and that is the avenue we take for the recall. As my governor, I’m not happy with his [Dunleavy’s] draconian cuts,” she said. “We are not being treated equitably in the cuts. Coastal communities have had to take a larger hit [than urban communities]. It makes us feel second class and Alaskans don’t treat each other that way.”

Recall committee spokesperson DeWitt said that Cordova residents are invited to join their neighbors at a fundraiser for the recall effort Friday, Nov. 15 from 5-7 p.m. at the Powder House. Recall committee folks from Anchorage will be in town for the event to answer any questions regarding the recall effort.

“Without question, the recall application submitted to the Division of Elections meets the standard under Alaska law,” said attorney Jahna Lindemuth, counsel to the recall group.

“This rejection is without basis, and we will now turn to the courts for a remedy,” she said. “We do so with confidence that we will receive fair treatment and we will prevail. Alaskans should expect a prompt resolution of this dispute. The recall will continue forward.”

Once the application is certified by the courts, the group can begin collecting the 71,252 signatures necessary to put the recall to a vote, the recall group said in a statement. Then petition booklets will be distributed across the state to communities early awaiting the opportunity to sign again in the second phase of the recall movement, the group said.