Alaska House of Representatives District 30 member Gary Knopp (R) died in a plane crash near the city of Soldatna, Alaska, on August 1. The Juneau Empire reported that a plane piloted by Knopp collided with another plane just outside of the Soldatna airport.
Knopp was running for re-election in 2020, and his name will still appear on the ballot in the Republican primary on August 18. According to the Anchorage Daily News, if Knopp wins the primary election, Alaska Republican Party officials will name a replacement candidate in the general election scheduled on November 3, 2020. Knopp was first elected to represent District 30 in 2016.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) appointed Dario Borghesan to the Alaska Supreme Court on July 1, 2020. Borghesan succeeded Justice Craig Stowers, who retired on June 1, 2020. Borghesan is Dunleavy’s first nominee to the five-member supreme court.
Under Alaska law, state supreme court justices are appointed by the governor from a list of two or more nominees compiled by the Alaska Judicial Council. Newly appointed judges serve an initial term of at least three years, after which the justice must stand for retention in an uncontested yes-no election to remain on the bench. Subsequent terms last ten years. To remain on the bench, Borghesan must run for retention in 2024.
Before his appointment to the Alaska Supreme Court, Borghesan was the supervising attorney of the Alaska Department of Law’s civil appeals section. He previously served as special assistant to the attorney general (2009-2010) and assistant attorney general handling civil appeals (2010-2018). He was a law clerk to Justice Daniel Winfree on the state supreme court from 2008 to 2009.
Borghesan obtained a B.A., magna cum laude, from Amherst College in 2002. He received his J.D., magna cum laude, from the University of Michigan Law School, where he was Order of the Coif, in 2008. From 2002 to 2004, Borghesan served in the Peace Corps in Togo, Africa.
The Alaska Supreme Court is the court of last resort in Alaska. As of July 2020, three justices were appointed by a Republican governor and one justice was appointed by an independent governor.
In 2020, there have been 16 supreme court vacancies across 13 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. Of those 16 vacancies, 11 are in states where a Democratic governor appoints the replacement. Four vacancies occurred in a state where a Republican governor fills vacancies. One vacancy is in a state where the state supreme court votes to appoint the replacement.
At the general election on November 3, 2020, Alaskans will decide at least two citizen-initiated ballot measures.
The campaign Alaskans for Better Elections is supporting a ballot initiative that would make changes to Alaska’s election policies, including (a) requiring additional disclosures for campaign finance contributions, (b) replacing partisan primaries with open top-four primaries for state executive, state legislative, and congressional offices, and (c) establishing ranked-choice voting for general elections, in which voters would rank the four candidates that advanced from the primaries. Former Rep. Jason Grenn (I-22), who is chairperson of the campaign, described the ballot initiative as “kind of a three-pronged attack on making our elections better.” The campaign has received financial backing from the nonprofits Unite America, Action Now Initiative, and Represent.Us
The ballot initiative is the first citizen-initiated measure to establish top-four primaries, as well as the first to couple top-four primaries with ranked-choice voting. Voters in one state—Maine—approved a ranked-choice voting ballot initiative in 2016. Massachusetts and North Dakota could join Alaska in voting on ranked-choice voting in 2020.
Vote Yes for Alaska’s Fair Share is leading the campaign in support of a ballot initiative to increase taxes on oil production fields located in Alaska’s North Slope that have a lifetime output of at least 400 million barrels of oil and an output of at least 40,000 barrels per day in the preceding calendar year. According to Robin Brena, chairperson of the campaign behind the ballot initiative, three oil production fields—Alpine, Kuparuk, and Prudhoe Bay—meet those criteria. The ballot initiative would tax oil production using an alternative gross minimum tax or an additional production tax, whichever is greater, for each month and each field. Brena, the campaign’s chairperson, was chairperson of former Gov. Bill Walker’s (I) Transition Subcommittee on Oil and Gas.
With the support of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, ConocoPhillips Alaska, and ExxonMobil, the campaign OneAlaska launched to oppose the ballot initiative.
Both of the Alaska ballot initiatives face lawsuits that could stop them from appearing on the ballot or change their ballot language. Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer (R) and the Alaska Division of Elections (DOE), which oversee state ballot initiatives, argued that the elections-related ballot initiative addressed multiple issues and violated the state’s single-subject rule. In October, Judge Yvonne Lamoureux ruled that the ballot initiative was designed with a single subject—election reform. Meyer and DOE appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court. Vote Yes for Alaska’s Fair Share is challenging language that Meyer and DOE wrote for the ballot initiative, arguing that some of the wording “was not true and impartial” as required.
In Alaska, the ballot can also feature veto referendums, for which campaigns have 90 days to collect signatures following the legislature’s adjournment. The Alaska State Legislature adjourned on May 20, 2020, and no veto referendums have been filed as of May 29. The legislature also had the option to place constitutional amendments on the ballot, but no legislative proposals were voted on or approved by the legislature.
On Friday, May 15, Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) extended the state’s restrictions on out-of-state visitors and residents returning to Alaska through June 2. The Health Mandate requires all people entering Alaska to complete a travel declaration form and self-quarantine for 14 days.
Although the mandate does not apply to individuals working in industries that support critical infrastructure, businesses outside of Alaska whose employees enter the state to support critical infrastructure are required to submit a plan to health authorities for minimizing the spread of the coronavirus.
The travel restrictions went into effect on March 25 and were originally set to expire on April 21. On April 21, Gov. Dunleavy extended the restrictions through May 19.
Ballotpedia is tracking states that have implemented at least one travel restriction through executive orders issued by governors or state agencies. To date, 20 states have placed restrictions on out-of-state travelers.
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.