OPINION: Sound and fury with no assembly required
About the only good thing to say about the ongoing effort to recall Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy is that at least it won’t cost as much as the Mueller Report.
In the end, though, it will end up being just as effective at reversing the outcome of an election.
The opponents of the governor launched their effort on Aug. 1 to much fanfare and media coverage highlighted by a rally at Cuddy Park in Anchorage where a couple hundred people gathered just steps away from homeless camps as Democrat Rep. Ivy Spohnholz egged on the crowd with her fist raised like John Carlos and Tommie Smith.
Lost in the excitement was much, if any, of a critical look at not only the high legal hurdles to overcome but the more relevant length of time this pointless fight is going to take.
First, the recall pushers have to gather some 28,000 legitimate signatures to even deliver the petition to Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer, who oversees the Division of Elections and is required to make the call on whether it passes legal muster.
Meyer will rely on the advice of Attorney General Kevin Clarkson in deciding whether to certify the petition, with the odds of a positive recommendation somewhere in the neighborhood of President Donald Trump appointing Rosie O’Donnell as chief of staff.
Once Meyer denies the petition for lack of meeting the legal standard for recall, the battle will move on to Superior Court with the losing party in that venue sure to appeal to the state Supreme Court.
Should the Superior Court ruling go in the recall petitioners’ favor, they will be allowed to begin gathering the more than 71,000 signatures needed for a special election while the appeal is pending. Should it not, they won’t be able to start unless they ultimately prevail at the Supreme Court.
Recent history on two high-profile cases that reached the Supreme Court show that even in an expedited timeframe the entire process would take nearly a year if not more to be resolved.
When Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, sued former Gov. Bill Walker in September 2016 for vetoing half of the Permanent Fund dividend, it was not until August 2017 that the Supreme Court issued its decision in favor of Walker.
After former Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott denied the Stand for Salmon initiative from the ballot in September 2017 and was subsequently challenged in court, it was not until August 2018 that the final ruling was made.
To think a case as monumental as the recall of a governor would take any less time is wishful thinking. As the petitioners note in their legal analysis, no recall petition against a statewide official has ever been certified in Alaska.
Presuming the petitioners gather enough signatures in the next month or so, and they said they got to 18,000 within the first week, it likely won’t be until the fall until Meyer makes his decision and kicks off the court fight.
Further presuming at least a year to receive a ruling from the Supreme Court, the soonest a recall election could take place would be sometime in early or mid-2021 depending on whether they are allowed to gather signatures while the appeal is pending based on how the Superior Court decides.
That would be just more than a year away from the regularly scheduled gubernatorial election in 2022.
Now we have entered the be-careful-what-you-wish-for stage of the recall effort for the petitioners.
Should everything somehow go their way, a recall election is held and they are successful in giving Dunleavy the boot, they will have only succeeded in elevating Meyer to the governor’s office.
Giving him more than a year to govern, including a legislative session, would provide Meyer an opportunity to present himself as a reasonable and drama-free Republican alternative much in the way the low-key former Gov. Sean Parnell benefited from simply not being Gov. Sarah Palin after her abrupt resignation in summer 2009 and he easily won election in his own right in 2010.
That isn’t going to help Democrats win a statewide office for the first time since Mark Begich squeaked out a win over the unjustly convicted late Sen. Ted Stevens in 2008.
Legal process aside, the recall petition itself is as thin as the paper it’s printed on even as the authors throw as much spaghetti at the wall as possible hoping just one piece sticks.
When the top arguments by their own admission are Dunleavy’s failure to appoint a judge to the Palmer Superior Court within 45 days (he eventually did) and their unproven allegations of campaign finance disclosure violations, even they know they are throwing a Hail Mary hoping for a judicial miracle.
If failure to follow a statute (cough, PFD formula, cough) and APOC violations are grounds for recall, then there are a lot of legislators who should be sweating. Further, the allegation of “incompetence” for an admitted error in a Medicaid funding veto is laughable.
While the habitual rake-stepping of this administration has been described in this space as incompetent, that is not the legal standard for a recall. The petitioners even acknowledge this in their legal memo with the admission that the legal standard is “lack of ability to perform the official’s required duties,” which refers to situations such as medical incapacity.
The leaders of this effort likely know all of this and understand the real purpose is to gin up enthusiasm for the 2020 legislative races. Those who actually believe this is going to work may also be interested in buying a bridge to Gravina Island.
Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected].