OPINION: Rivera faces poetic justice in recall

  • Anchorage Assembly Chair Felix Rivera will face recall on the April municipal ballot. (Photo/Bill Roth/Anchorage Daily News)

Karma, huh?

Just more than a year ago on Jan. 10, 2020, Superior Court Judge Eric Aarseth ruled that the recall effort against Gov. Mike Dunleavy could proceed in a decision that was ultimately upheld by the state Supreme Court.

Now it turns out that Anchorage Assembly Chair Felix Rivera will face the voters first, and long before Dunleavy, if he does at all before 2022, with the effort against the governor attempting to regain its momentum still more than 20,000 signatures short of the minimum needed.

On Jan. 25, another Superior Court judge affirmed the recall petition against Rivera is valid under state law and case precedent, although Dani Crosby curiously didn’t cite the far more recent and controlling standard established by the Supreme Court in siding with the group trying to recall Dunleavy.

To recap, the recall petition against Rivera was certified by the Anchorage Municipal Clerk based on his decision to continue to preside over an Aug. 11, 2020, Assembly meeting despite there being 17 people in the room in violation of an emergency order limiting such gatherings to 15 or fewer.

Two arguments against the petition were made by the group defending Rivera, namely that the violation was so minor as to not be a valid ground for recall and that it is within his discretion as chair to operate the meeting as he saw fit regardless of the emergency order, or EO, regarding capacity limits.

Crosby dismissed both of those arguments, noting that there is no “de minimis” standard limiting recalls, nor was there an exemption for Assembly meetings or Rivera in the capacity restriction of the EO.

Of course, the reason there is no di minimis limitation is the precedent that was established in the recall petition against Dunleavy and there is something quite resembling schadenfreude to see a progressive stalwart like Rivera hoisted on the petard of frivolous recall standards sought by his political allies and approved by the judicial system.

Attorneys for the state and the group defending Dunleavy from recall made the same arguments as those defending Rivera: that the allegations were either minimal in nature or within their legal authority.

Two of the grounds for recall against Dunleavy are patently ridiculous: one, that he failed to appoint a judge within 45 days required under statute and another being that he made a mistake on one of his vetoes of Medicaid funding.

Neither action resulted in any harm. A judge was appointed before a vacancy occurred in accordance with the state constitution and the Medicaid veto was a scrivener’s error that was subsequently corrected.

Had Dunleavy not been so silly as to attach a signing statement to his court system veto over an abortion decision, that, too, would have been ruled legal just as his massive vetoes to other state services were upheld and then struck from the recall petition by both Aarseth and the Supreme Court.

In sum, the driving motivation behind the recall of Dunleavy — his vetoes of more than $400 million from the state budget in 2019 — is not even a part of the official petition to remove him from office.

What is left are two shallow charges — the tardy judge appointment and the Medicaid error — and another that would have been legal under his constitutional veto authority if Dunleavy didn’t bother to explain why he did it.

Which brings us back to the grounds for recall against Rivera.

The backers of the recall against Rivera who have been protesting the arbitrary capacity restrictions, closures and curfews leveled against businesses surely do not believe he risked public health by allowing 17 people instead of 15 inside the spacious Assembly chambers.

Instead, they have followed Alinsky’s Rule No. 4 and cleverly applied the standard of superficial technicalities determined by the state’s highest court as sufficient for recall in the petition against Dunleavy.

The violation of EO-15 officially deemed grounds for recall of Rivera is simply the vehicle for ousting a politician who has been at the forefront of shuttering businesses, mismanaging CARES Act funds and in general turning a deaf ear to the people he and his leftist cohort on the Assembly are hurting.

That’s why it would take a heart of stone to not laugh at Rivera dubbing the people trying to recall him as a “radical group” trying to “bully” him. Bullies require power and as of now, Rivera holds a tremendous amount of it and the people trying to recall him have none beyond their ability to stand in the cold for hours to collect signatures and exercise their political rights on a ballot.

Rivera has been bullying the people of Anchorage for nearly a year and there is a certain poetic justice in the way he has finally discovered a job worth defending.

Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected].

Updated: 
01/27/2021 - 9:12am