Voters Sue After Alaska Elections Chief Rejects Petition to Recall Governor

Protesters unfurl a banner as Alaska Governor 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)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (CN) – True to its promise, a campaign to recall Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy filed suit Tuesday after the state’s Division of Elections refused to certify its recall petition.

Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai said Monday she based her decision on the legal opinion of Alaska Attorney General Kevin Clarkson.

“The application complies with the technical requirements of the recall statutes,” Clarkson wrote. “But because the grounds of recall fails to satisfy the legal standards required for a recall, we recommend that certification of the application be denied.”

Clarkson, a Republican, found that under Alaska law, “The recall application failed to make these showings. The grounds of incompetence and lack of fitness, as a matter of law, were not applicable here.”

In a six-page complaint filed in Anchorage Superior Court, recall supporters say that by refusing to certify the recall application, Fenumiai has denied Alaskans the opportunity to lawfully exercise their right to a recall petition under the state Constitution.

Attorneys for the recall effort claim it is irrelevant whether the grounds for the petition are factual and that refusing to certify is incorrect as a matter of law.

“The director must assume the factual allegations listed in the application are true for purposes of this determination,” the lawsuit states.

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, including 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.

The line-item veto issue also came up at a separate hearing in Anchorage Superior Court on Tuesday, in which attorneys for the Alaska chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union argued for an injunction blocking the $344,700 cut to the Alaska Court System by Dunleavy.

“The governor’s action retaliates and seeks to punish the court system for exercising its judicial powers and seeks to undermine the independence of the judiciary,” ACLU attorney Stephen Koteff said.

Citing Dunleavy’s statement in a budget document as evidence of retaliation for the Alaska Supreme Court’s ruling this past February in Alaska v. Planned Parenthood of the Greater Northwest invalidating restrictions on state-funded abortions.

“The legislative and executive branch are opposed to state-funded elective abortions; the only branch of government that insists on state-funded elective abortions is the Supreme Court. The annual cost of elective abortions is reflected by this reduction,” Dunleavy wrote in his veto.

Arguing for the state, Assistant Attorney General Jessica Leeah said the case involves political doctrine. “This lawsuit politicizes the court system and that’s why we request restraint on that basis to let the legislative and executive branches work it out,” she said.

The campaign seeking to recall Dunleavy wants a judge to restore the petition and to require the Division of Elections to print petition booklets for the next round of signature-gathering. They must gather more than 70,000 signatures in the next phase to bring an official recall vote.

The recall effort is represented by Jahna Lindemuth. Lindemuth served as attorney general for former Alaska Governor Bill Walker, Dunleavy’s predecessor.

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