By Lilly Milman
Volunteers in Skagway have submitted about 210 petition signatures to recall Gov. Mike Dunleavy since the statewide campaign launched Aug. 1, a strong effort in the community where voters cast 388 ballots in the 2018 state general election.
The Recall Dunleavy campaign began after the governor’s $440 million in vetoes to the state operating budget, cutting funding to the university system, Medicaid, the state arts council, senior citizen benefits and more. The governor also proposed a two-thirds cut to the state ferry system budget, which the legislative scaled back to about a one-third reduction.
The recall organizers need to collect and submit signatures equal to 10 percent of voters in the 2018 general election — about 28,500 signers statewide — before the Division of Elections will determine if the grounds for recall are valid. If the recall passes the legal test, which could go to the Alaska Supreme Court for an answer, supporters will need to collect signatures equal to 25 percent of the 2018 election turnout — a little over 71,200 people — to force a special election to remove Dunleavy from office.
The second petition drive requires new signatures; supporters cannot just resubmit the petitions from the first campaign.
As of Aug. 15, the Recall Dunleavy campaign had gathered almost 30,000 signatures. The group said it would continue collecting signatures until Sept. 2 to build a buffer for any disqualified signatures.
There has not been such a strong recall effort in Alaska since 1992, when the first round of petitions was completed in an attempt to vote Gov. Wally Hickel out of office. The organizers did not proceed with the recall drive.
Skagway’s signature collections as of Aug. 15 represent 54 percent of the community’s voter turnout in 2018, when the town went for Democratic candidate for governor Mark Begich over Republican Dunleavy, 241-125. There were also 294 signatures collected in nearby Haines by Aug. 5.
“With this kind of outpouring of support, if I were the governor, I’d sit up and take notice,” Mayor Andrew Cremata said.
Jeff Brady, one of a few organizers leading the effort in Skagway, said most of the signatures were collected at the Skagway Arts Council’s Blues, Brews and BBQ fundraiser event Aug. 3. While he expected mostly young people would be interested in the recall, signatures came from people of all ages — especially those who were concerned about the future of senior care. Brady said he does not typically get involved with politics but felt he needed to personally react against the governor’s aggressive cuts.
“I was angry, like a lot of people, at how excessive the veto efforts were,” Brady said. “It seemed like there was no compassion involved.”
Responding to public pressure, Dunleavy said this month he would approve legislative efforts to restore funding for senior citizen benefits, along with some early childhood programs and state funding for legal assistance for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. He also agreed to reduce his budget cuts to the University of Alaska system.
The majority of his cuts will stand, however, include reductions in state funding for Medicaid and reimbursement of local school construction debt.
Brady said regardless of the governor’s change on some items, he will continue to support the recall.
“I’m still upset that he (proposed the cuts) in the first place,” Brady said. “I’m not backing off just because he’s changed a couple of things. I want to see it through.”