Election official rejects effort to recall Alaska governor

Mike Dunleavy

FILE – In this May 29, 2019, file photo, Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks to reporters in his office at the state Capitol in Juneau, Alaska. A fight is brewing over whether Dunleavy, a Republican who took office in Dec. 2018, should be recalled. Critics say he’s incompetent and has recklessly tried to cut spending while supporters see a politically motivated attempt to undo the last election. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer, File)

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Supporters of an effort to recall Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy vowed to take their fight to court after an election official on Monday rejected their bid to move forward with seeking to oust him from office.

Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai said she based her decision on Attorney General Kevin Clarkson’s legal opinion, which found the reasons listed for recall were “factually and legally deficient.” Clarkson is a Dunleavy appointee.

Jahna Lindemuth, a former attorney general and an adviser to the Recall Dunleavy campaign, said it was baseless to reject their effort to move to the next step.

Dunleavy, a Republican, has drawn parallels between himself and President Donald Trump, casting himself as a chief executive trying to implement an agenda of smaller government and resource development while facing attacks from the left. Trump, the subject of an impeachment inquiry, has defended Dunleavy on Twitter.

Dunleavy critics say he is incompetent and has recklessly tried to cut spending, while his supporters see a politically motivated attempt to undo the last election.

In a statement, Dunleavy said Clarkson’s opinion “appears to be well reasoned.” He said his administration “will continue governing the state as we have since the election in a manner that is consistent with the fundamentals of good government.”

Among its claims, the pro-recall group said Dunleavy violated the law by not appointing a judge within a required time frame, misused state funds for partisan online ads and mailers, and improperly used his veto authority to “attack the judiciary.”

Dunleavy cut from the court budget an amount the administration said was commensurate to state funding for abortions. This happened after the Alaska Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional a state law and regulation seeking to define what constitutes medically necessary abortions for Medicaid funding.

The state is being sued over the issue. Clarkson has said Dunleavy acted within his authority and repeated that in his legal analysis Monday.

Clarkson said other claims outlined by the recall group lacked detail or otherwise failed to meet the definitions of incompetence, lack of fitness or neglect of duty required to recall Dunleavy.

Two governors — Gray Davis in California in 2003 and Lynn Frazier in North Dakota in 1921 — have been recalled by voters, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Dunleavy, elected last fall with 51% of the vote, has had a rocky year marked by lawsuits, fights with lawmakers and unions, and public outcry over budget vetoes that helped fuel the recall push.

Dunleavy “lacks a basic understanding of his own constituents and what we care about: respect for separation of powers, responsible planning for economic stability and competent decision-making that makes Alaska a great place to live,” according to a statement from 15 leaders of the recall group, including a union official, coal company chairman and a delegate to the Alaska Constitutional Convention.

It’s unclear who is funding the campaigns for and against Dunleavy because that information generally does not have to be made public yet.

Claire Pywell, who manages the recall campaign, said the recall push is bipartisan. Lindsay Williams, listed as chair of the recall opposition group Stand Tall with Mike, declined to comment.

Recall Dunleavy said as part of an initial phase it had gathered 49,006 signatures within weeks when 28,501 signatures were needed.

Lindemuth and Scott Kendall, who worked in the administration of Dunleavy’s predecessor, independent Bill Walker, are legal advisers to the recall campaign. Craig Richards, who preceded Lindemuth as Walker’s attorney general, is representing Stand Tall with Mike.

Dunleavy has defended the widespread cuts he proposed as governor, which went beyond those he promoted as a candidate, as a response to oil prices that weakened after the campaign and the fiscal situation.

He has noted that Walker failed to win support for new or higher taxes amid the deficit debate, and Walker faced backlash for cutting the size of the check residents get from the state’s oil-wealth fund.

Dunleavy said his vetoes forced Alaskans to talk about what they value and said he listened to comments. He eventually backed off a $135 million cut in state support to the University of Alaska system, which the system president said would have been devastating, and agreed to a $70 million cut over three years.

Dunleavy also agreed to reverse cuts to certain early childhood learning and senior programs. But he cut Medicaid, and his administration is eyeing changes to the already depleted ferry system that serves many coastal communities.

Dunleavy recently told Fox News he was confident the situation would die down “as people realize the decisions that we’ve made are actually going to improve the situation for Alaska.”

Pywell said Alaskans remain upset.

“People are not cooling off. They don’t trust him,” she said.

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