Alaska Gov. Dunleavy: Recall Efforts Weaken Democracy

Alaska Gov. Dunleavy: Recall Efforts Weaken Democracy
Bill Roth /Anchorage Daily News via AP
Alaska Gov. Dunleavy: Recall Efforts Weaken Democracy
Bill Roth /Anchorage Daily News via AP
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While the nation is paralyzed by impeachment drama, a lesser known, yet similar effort to overturn Alaska’s 2018 gubernatorial election is underway. Elected by a margin of more than 7%, Alaskans entrusted me with bolstering public safety and getting our economy back on track after years of shrinking oil revenues.

And that’s exactly what my administration did.

We addressed the crime wave that held our communities hostage by enacting comprehensive criminal justice reform and removing violent criminals and sexual predators from our communities. With innovative solutions like the Alaska Development Team, we grew Alaska’s economy while working together to end the longest recession in Alaska’s history.

We now enjoy the lowest unemployment rate in state history, our wages are at a 10-year high, and our state’s GDP is growing by 2.4%, making Alaska one of the fastest-growing economies in the nation.

Despite these groundbreaking strides, there are those who seek to impede our progress. Unfortunately, our nation has entered a new political era in which impeachment and recall have become political ploys to address policy disagreement.

Last year, Alaska faced a sudden $2 billion downturn in revenue as the price of oil crashed by 34% in just two months. My initial plan for a multi-year, stepdown approach became untenable as our options quickly shrank. Confronted by a $1.6 billion deficit, the legislature and I took a solid first step by reducing the budget.

Understandably, this produced a vigorous debate over Alaska’s fiscal future. But the situation needlessly escalated when the former governor’s chief of staff and attorney general chose to abuse Alaska’s unique recall system. For these career politicians, like those in Washington, a recall is an opportunity to accomplish what they were unable to achieve at the ballot box.

To be clear, I don’t begrudge Alaskans who are unhappy with my budgetary decisions last year. They have valid concerns, and I am committed to involving all Alaskans in this grand discussion regarding the future of our state. That’s why I’ve proposed a flat budget this year, giving us time to work together and develop solutions.

But I do know that a divisive recall campaign, helmed by resentful staffers of a past administration, won’t help solve the pressing issues we face. I know this because I see what’s occurring in Washington, D.C., where Congress has been paralyzed by the obsession to unseat Donald Trump, despite an election that is only months away. Americans are left to suffer while important bipartisan efforts such as reducing prescription drug costs and advancing international trade languish in a congressional quagmire.

Meanwhile, the political elite continue to pile on, dividing our country and reaping the benefits. Billionaire Tom Steyer spent at least $50 million on a campaign to impeach President Trump before he cashed in on his new-found fame to run for president. Many staffers of his organization, “Need to Impeach,” don’t even believe they can impeach the president as they solicit millions of dollars in donations for that very purpose.

“Impeachment to them is a value -- it’s not a legislative process,” lead strategist Kevin Mack told The Atlantic. “It’s like, ‘Build that wall.’”

These maneuvers also carry a hefty fiscal cost to taxpayers. In just the first three months, the congressional investigations incurred over $3 million in legal fees and staff hours – a figure that doesn’t account for extensive police overtime and witness travel costs.   

But the ultimate example of taxpayer abuse came during the 2012 election cycle. Over that two-year period, Wisconsin was plagued by the unsuccessful recall of Gov. Scott Walker and 13 state legislators on both sides of aisle. The reasons were brazenly political: a dustup over union policy and the budget.

The efforts of the aggrieved parties were wildly unsuccessful and costly, exacting $16 million from taxpayers in addition to the $137 million that was spent on political activity. Simultaneously, outside special interests burned a record-breaking $76 million as they attempted to sway Wisconsinites to their cause. Altogether, the spending bonanza dwarfed typical election year activity.

This is not a situation I hope to see mirrored in Alaska. Elections should matter. Baseless “do-overs” only serve to trivialize the votes cast 15 months ago and jeopardize the many proposals I have offered to move Alaska forward over the coming year.

Worse, a recall in Alaska sets a dangerous precedent nationwide. Unlike in Wisconsin, I am not running against any candidate. If a lower court decision stands, any Alaskan politician is at risk of a politically motivated retention election the moment he or she takes the oath of office. Today, it’s a Republican governor; tomorrow, a Democrat or independent could share the same fate.

It’s my hope that Alaska and our nation can chart a path away from this dysfunction; that we approach our disagreements with thoughtful debate, free of the political brinksmanship that weakens our democracy.

Mike Dunleavy is the governor of Alaska.

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