Dunleavy recall campaign gets fresh start

40,000 more signatures needed to put recall issue on the ballot

More than 20,000 recall petition booklets are in the mail to Alaskans who signed the initial recall petitions, but have not yet signed the official petition needed for a special election to recall Gov. Mike Dunleavy. Photo courtesy of the Recall Dunleavy campaign

An effort to recall Gov. Mike Dunleavy is back on track after the Alaska Supreme Court upheld a lower court decision that found backers of the recall effort had met legal qualifications to proceed with their campaign.

“We’ve known since day one that we have the constitutional right to express our collective will and vote,” said Meda DeWitt chair of Recall Dunleavy, upon release of the high court’s decision on Friday, May 8. “The Alaska Supreme Court validated our grounds detailing the governor’s clear violation of the separation of powers, illegal and partisan misuse of state funds, and disturbing errors in executing his constitutionally mandated duties.”

A full written explanation of the court’s decision is expected at a later date.

The broad based, non-partisan committee is chaired by Joseph Usibelli Sr., chairman of the board of Usibelli Coal Mine; former Democratic state senator Vic Fischer; and former Republican state Sen. Arliss Sturgulewski.

The recall committee now plans to collect over 40,000 more signatures to gather a total of over 71,252 required during the petition phase, or phase two, of the recall. Once these signatures are turned over to the state Division of Elections, the state has 30 days to verify all those submitted and determine the state of an election.

“It’s go-time,” said Claire Pywell, campaign manager. “We need 40,000 Alaskans to step up and sign the recall petition as soon as possible Alaskans who signed the application in 2019 must sign the petition again in 2020. Together we will continue to make history and get our state on track for the recovery ahead.”

The Recall Dunleavy campaign argued that there are four grounds for recalling the governor.

  • Violation of state law by refusing to name a judge to the Palmer Superior Court within the required time frame.
  • Illegal use of state funds for advertisements and mailers against his political opponents.
  • Violation of separation of powers in his veto of judiciary and public health funds.
  • Acted incompetently when he mistakenly vetoed $18 million in Medicaid funds more than he told the Legislature he would veto, and the veto would have cost the state more than $40 million in matching federal fund.

The state’s highest court had previously ruled that the recall campaign would continue with the phase two signature gathering until it heard the case and according to Pywell campaign volunteers had collected over 30,000 signatures before they had to transition to a signing at home campaign on March 20 because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. The campaign then allowed people to request recall petition booklets to sign at home and return to the campaign.

That effort added a lot of additional signatures, Pywell said.

“The pandemic slowed things down, but it did not stop us,” she said. “People need to know it is alive and well and we are moving forward.”

The Keep Dunleavy campaign, chaired by Cynthia Henry, maintains that Dunleavy has worked tirelessly to put Alaska back on track economically. According to the Keep Dunleavy website, the state’s economy “is stronger than ever, crime is declining, and state government is once again working for Alaskans, not against them.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story identified Joseph Usibelli Jr. as chairman of the board of Usibelli Coal Mine as a chairman of the recall campaign. Joseph Usibelli Jr. is president of the company and not affiliated with the campaign. Joseph Usibelli Sr. is chairman of the board of Usibelli Coal and a co-chair of the campaign.