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Alaska's Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy Faces A Recall Campaign


Alaska's Republican Governor, Mike Dunleavy, is facing a recall campaign. His opponents want to recall him after he attempted to make deep cuts to the state government. Alaska Public Media and KTOO's Andrew Kitchenman reports.

ANDREW KITCHENMAN, BYLINE: It was really busy last Saturday morning at Juneau's downtown convention center. Opponents of Governor Dunleavy were there to launch their petition drive in order to recall him from office. Dominic Lodivici teaches at at Yaakoosge Daakahidi High School. And Sol Neely, a volunteer, walked him through the petition process.

SOL NEELY: We're trying to stay within the lines. People have been doing address with two lines because we do need the city, state and zip.

KITCHENMAN: The petition lists four grounds for recall, which are also at the center of an ongoing court fight. One, Dunleavy failed to appoint a state judge on time. Two, he cut some court system money because he opposed decisions upholding public abortion funding. Three, his office used state money to buy political advertising. And four, he mistakenly vetoed millions of dollars of federal Medicaid money - an error that was later corrected. But petition signers seem to only want to talk about budget cuts.

SUEANNE RANDALL: I moved here when I was 20 years old. And the things that attracted me to Alaska this governor has just...

KITCHENMAN: This is SueAnne Randall, a local artist.

RANDALL: It's like he's taken a sledgehammer to everything - the way of life, values, the economy, trust.

KITCHENMAN: The deepest cut so far has been to the Alaska Marine Highway System. That's the 60-year-old ferry system that covers a distance greater than the drive from Boston to San Diego. Shayne Thompson relies on the ferry. He owns Angoon Trading Company, the main store in Angoon, a tiny city of about 500 on Admiralty Island in southeast Alaska.

SHAYNE THOMPSON: He was sounding like he was pro-ferry (laughter), which - it hasn't played out that way.

KITCHENMAN: After he took office, Dunleavy proposed a huge cut to the system, which ended in nearly half of the ferry budget being eliminated. That - combined with years of putting off maintenance - shut the ferries down for weeks in what's become a bleak winter.

THOMPSON: Before, we had plenty of fresh dairy and fresh produce. And now the way that things are going, we run out anywhere from a few days to a week before we get the next load.

KITCHENMAN: Thompson voted for Dunleavy but ultimately decided to sign the recall petition. The ferry disruption prompted an Alaska native tribal government, the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, to start a food drive for hard-hit communities. Jamiann Hasselquist, whose name is S’eil Tin in the Tlingit language, coordinated the drive.

JAMIANN HASSELQUIST: As Tlingit people, our traditional values are to lift each other up, hold each other up.

KITCHENMAN: When I raise Dunleavy, she doesn't want to get political. But she remembers during his campaign, the governor described using the ferries when he first came to Alaska from his birth state of Pennsylvania.

HASSELQUIST: The governor romanticized about his trip up to the state of Alaska and how he took the ferry to Alaska. And I don't know what else to say besides that.

KITCHENMAN: Alaskans opposed to the recall also are organizing. Cynthia Henry chairs Keep Dunleavy, a new group fighting the recall.

CYNTHIA HENRY: We can see that the recall folks are mounting quite a campaign. And it needed to be countered.

KITCHENMAN: Henry says the listed grounds for recall are flimsy.

HENRY: It's pretty clear that it's politically motivated. And that's not a good way to run government.

KITCHENMAN: Dunleavy has changed his approach to his second budget, which he proposed after the recall campaign launched. This time, no big changes. Recall organizers need to get to more than 71,000 signatures before April 20 to ensure there's a special election this summer. For NPR News, I'm Andrew Kitchenman in Juneau.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAVIS SCOTT SONG, "GOOSEBUMPS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrew Kitchenman