Judge Advances Bid to Recall Alaska Governor

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (CN) – An Anchorage Superior Court judge on Friday directed Alaska’s Division of Elections to allow the effort to recall Governor Mike Dunleavy to proceed.

“Today over 49,000 Alaskan voices were heard in court,” Recall Dunleavy organizers said in a statement, referring to the number of registered voters’ signatures collected to launch the effort. “We’re moving forward with strength and momentum.”

Protesters unfurl a banner as Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks during a March 26, 2019, roadshow with Americans for Prosperity in 49th State Brewing Company in Anchorage. A fight is brewing over whether Dunleavy, a Republican who took office in December 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. (Bill Roth/Anchorage Daily News via AP, File)

Judge Eric Aarseth ruled that the Division of Elections incorrectly rejected the recall effort and directed the division to distribute petition books no later than Feb. 10.

“The recall process is fundamentally a political process. This is not an issue for the judicial branch to decide whether the governor should stay in office or not,” Aarseth said. “This is a question for the voters, and the [Alaska] constitution makes that very clear,” he said.

“This court declines to restrict the voter’s right to affirmatively step into, admonish and disapprove of elected officials’ conduct in office.”

The recall effort had been on hold since early November, when the elections division said the initiative did not meet legal standards based on guidance from state Attorney General Kevin Clarkson. Aarseth’s ruling reverses that decision and based on election rules, if Dunleavy is recalled in a special election to be held in April, ironically it is Clarkson who would step in as governor.

Before that can happen, though, the Recall Dunleavy campaign will need to obtain the signatures of 71,252 registered voters, or 25% of the number of individuals who voted in the last general election.

Recall supporters gathered more than 49,000 signatures, nearly twice as many as the 28,501 required to submit the petition that lays out the grounds for a recall – neglect of duties, incompetence and lack of fitness to be governor.

They claim Dunleavy, a Republican, broke Alaska law by refusing to appoint a judge to the Palmer Superior Court within 45 days of receiving nominations; violated separation of powers by improperly using line-item vetoes to attack the court system after an abortion ruling he did not like; and prevents the Legislature from upholding its constitutional health, education and welfare responsibilities.

In his ruling, Aarseth concurred with all but one of the points set forth by the recall campaign. Aarseth said the veto of health funding could have been overridden by the Alaska Legislature and did not violate the state constitution’s separation-of-powers guidelines.

After the ruling, attorney Brewster Jamieson representing the group Stand Tall With Mike Against the Recall requested the signature-gathering be put on hold pending appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court. Aarseth declined.

Aarseth noted he limited his ruling to the legal framework of the recall and is not advising anyone on how to vote.

“I’m not weighing whether any of the allegations made by the plaintiff are true or false. I’m not making any judgments on whether the elected official is doing a good job or not,” he said.

“I realize that in all likelihood, I’ll make a decision, one or all of you will agree or disagree with my decision, but most likely want to bring this up to the Supreme Court.”

Former state Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth argued on behalf of Recall Dunleavy. Chief Assistant Attorney General Margaret Paton-Walsh argued the state’s position alongside Jamieson of the Stand Tall with Mike group, whose name pays homage to Dunleavy’s height of seven feet.

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