Back in the summer, after rookie Governor Mike Dunleavy announced his more than $440 million in budget vetoes, the rage was real and it was palpable. It wouldn’t have been overly alarmist at that time to think that the anger could result in protests and riots in the streets.
One big reason we were spared that mayhem was the wherewithal of a handful of concerned local citizens who started the ‘Alaskans for the Recall of Governor Dunleavy’ movement. With no office nor budget, this true grassroots movement created a release valve for that anger. The result was an astronomical number of signatures collected, almost all of which turned out to be legitimate toward the purpose of having a recall measure on the 2020 ballot.
Few at the time, however, were giving much thought to the legal requirements of the Alaska Constitution, except maybe to say this madman of a governor is trying to depopulate the state and reduce what’s left to a third-world shithole, not to mention putting at risk the lives of the elderly and most vulnerable Alaskans at risk, all so he can hand out a great big PFD.
If that didn’t meet the criteria for incompetency or unfitness for office, it’s hard to imagine what would.
Daft as he is, Dunleavy did take notice, and upon relenting on most of his vetoes — and in true cowardly wicked fashion claimed credit for having ‘started the conversation’ — he further appeased the angry masses outside the castle by throwing into the moat his Chief of Staff Tuckerman Babcock and budget advisor Donna Arduin. Through this Dunleavy was saying he was humbled, chastened, repentant — kind of — and would you pretty please like me a little bit now?
Of course, he wasn’t really all that reformed, appearing on Fox News and the even more deplorable One America News Network, casting his lot with President Trump as fellow witches being hunted mercilessly and in need of sympathy from the base. Still, as summer gave way to fall, the contempt for Dunleavy did dissipate, even as Alaskans who voted for him solely for his promise of a $6,000 PFD, which then became a $3,000 PFD finally settled in at $1,606, a full $6 greater than the Great Alaskan Handout of the last year of the Walker Administration.
Then on Monday, Attorney General Kevin Clarkson determined that the recall effort was illegitimate, not because the number and veracity of the signatures was in question, but because there was no legal basis for removing the governor. This came as no surprise to anyone, given that Clarkson didn’t take the issue seriously enough to outsource the determination to an independent third party, as was done the last time Alaska tried to recall a governor in 1992. A day later, the Recall Dunleavy movement was in court looking to have Clarkson’s ruling thrown out and the recall measure secured onto the 2020 ballot.
But do we really want it on the ballot? Did we Alaskans who give a shit about the future of our state not make our point already by rising up and showing the kind of turnout and organization we could create if pushed that far?
Yes, by all means, fight Clarkson in the courts if for no other reason than to remind people about the stonewalling, incompetence and crony capitalism occupying the governor’s office, but in the end, wouldn’t it be better to ultimately lose that fight in the courts?
Losing in the courts would keep outrage and intensity high in the much more important 2020 legislative races and most importantly avoid the nightmare scenario in all this — getting the recall on the ballot and Dunleavy surviving it, which would only serve to embolden the Tall Man and give him what he would perceive as a mandate to ‘right-size’ government.
And this would probably be the most likely outcome. The only hope for galvanizing a recall vote by the fall of 2020 would be the anticipated deluge of voters coming out to vote against President Trump at the top of the ticket, but what if he’s not on the ballot? What if, say, Mitt Romney were the Republican nominee for President? Could you count on the same momentum?
Derek Reed, a teacher at East High, was among the founders of the Recall Dunleavy movement and as you might expect, his take on this week’s developments are considerably different. He said they hope to get a timeline from the courts as early as Friday to chart the course forward.
“In the meantime we’re doing fundraisers in Juneau and Sitka and one in Cordova and those are actually gaining more traction now,” Reed said. “If anything, this kind of pissed people off with the assistant attorney general saying Clarkson made the decision… So that has a lot of people saying if Clarkson is doing this that’s causing a lot of people to lose trust in that office.”
Reed acknowledged that the impetus of the recall movement was more rooted in emotion than legality, but not as much as one might think.
“The emotion in the aftermath of the vetoes was anger and the grounds have come secondary; however, there is a group of people who stated the grounds as their primary reason (for signing the petition),” Reed said. “Some wouldn’t sign the recall until we could show them how Dunleavy had broken the law through his attack ads paid by the state, by the abortion veto and so on. And once people saw the legal grounds more people came over from the middle saying, ‘well, if he’s broken the law like this…’”
But the other downside of recalling Dunleavy is that the result would be Governor Kevin Meyer, an undoubted yes-man for the extraction industry, who would be much preferred by the Republican establishment and the so-called ‘Lisa Murkowski Republicans’. Such a scenario would do little for progressive causes in Alaska and allow the GOP to be rid of the albatross around their neck that Dunleavy is and move forward with an organized agenda.
Reed said he’s weighed that matter, too.
“If Dunleavy is willing to do all this in not even a full year as governor, we need to keep beating him back because we could get hit so much worse next year and the year after, because the legislature can’t be relied on,” Reed said. “I think (Dunleavy) would do too much permanent damage, whereas if we can get him out now he would have done not too much permanent damage, but if he gets to stay in office he’s going to do way too much damage.”
Reed’s is certainly a valid concern, but is the risk worth the reward? Would it not be better for the recall movement of Dunleavy — and for that matter the effort to impeach Trump to be frustrated by legal hurdles in order to keep voter intensity high?
The nightmare outcome for impeachment of Trump isn’t all that dissimilar from that of the one facing the Dunleavy recall. If Trump is impeached quickly by the House and acquitted in a Senate hearing wherein it is determined the ‘quid pro quo’ with Ukrainian aid is not deserving of impeachment, the outrage will wane over time and an emboldened Trump will feel — and not wrongly — that he’s pretty much untouchable. By the fall, he’s head-to-head with the likes of an Elizabeth Warren whose message will never play with swing voters in the important states.
What are they gonna do, impeach him again?
The point is, in both efforts, it’s better to be frustrated than to get your way. Frustration is about the only thing that can keep the fires of righteous indignation burning.