Alaska Supreme Court rules Gov. Mike Dunleavy recall can proceed

The Alaska Supreme Court on May 8 affirmed a superior court ruling that the recall effort against Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) can move forward. In November 2019, Attorney General Kevin Clarkson (R) determined that the recall failed to meet any of the grounds for recall. In Alaska, a recall petition has to meet one of the following grounds to make the ballot: lack of fitness, incompetence, neglect of duties, or corruption. The state Division of Elections rejected the recall petition citing Clarkson’s legal opinion. The Recall Dunleavy group appealed Clarkson’s decision, and in January 2020, Anchorage Superior Court Judge Eric Aarseth rejected Clarkson’s ruling. The state appealed Aarseth’s ruling to the supreme court.

In response to the court’s decision to reverse his ruling, Clarkson said, “The Court ignored Alaska’s constitutional history and has effectively rewritten our Constitution and statutes to adopt no-cause political recall. By the Court’s decision, from this point forward any elected official will be subject to recall for virtually any reason.” Recall Dunleavy campaign manager Claire Pywell said about the ruling, “We’ve been confident in these grounds since the beginning, but it is a huge win for all of our supporters, all of the folks who have been so committed.”

Supporters will need to gather 71,252 signatures to get the recall on the ballot. According to Alaska recall law, if a vote to recall Dunleavy is approved, Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer (R) would become governor.

Pywell said that the recall group believes that it must gather the necessary signatures by July 3 to make the November 2020 ballot. As of May 4, 2020, the Recall Dunleavy website said the group had collected 34,802 signatures. Due to coronavirus concerns, the recall campaign began to collect signatures by mail on March 20, 2020.

Recall supporters have criticized Dunleavy over four specific actions, including: authorizing state funds to be used for partisan advertisements, failing to appoint a judge to the Palmer Superior Court within the required statutory timeframe, violating separation-of-powers by improperly using the line-item veto, and accounting errors in budget vetoes, which the recall effort alleges would have cost the state millions in Medicare funding.

Alaska is under a divided government, and no political party holds a state government trifecta. A state government trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and both state legislative chambers. Republicans control the state Senate by a 13-7 margin. Although Republicans also won a majority in the state House in the 2018 elections, a coalition of 15 Democrats, four Republicans, and two independents elected Bryce Edgmon (undeclared) as the state House’s speaker on February 14, 2019. This resulted in the parties having split control of key leadership positions in a power-sharing agreement. Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) won the governor’s office in 2018.

Four gubernatorial recall efforts are currently underway in 2020. From 2003 to 2019, Ballotpedia tracked 21 gubernatorial recall efforts. During that time, two recalls made the ballot, and one governor was successfully recalled. Former California Gov. Gray Davis (D) was recalled in 2003 and replaced by Arnold Schwarzenegger (R). In 2012, former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) was retained in a recall election. The only other governor to ever be successfully recalled was former North Dakota Gov. Lynn Frazier (R) in 1921.

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