More than 3,000 Fairbanks-area residents signed petitions Thursday calling for a recall election against Governor Mike Dunleavy. Fairbanks members of an organization that’s running the recall effort say they gathered those signatures over three hours in an event at Pioneer Park on the first day of a statewide petition drive launched in response to Dunleavy’s severe budget cuts and other actions.
Less than hour after the event began, a steady stream of people packed the plaza in front of Pioneer Park’s Center for the Arts, waiting to queue up in one of the long lines that led to the petitions they’d come to sign.
“We anticipated being able to sign up 3,500 signatures in three hours. At this point, we’re probably ahead of that curve,” said Bruce Jamieson, who heads up the Fairbanks chapter of Recall Dunleavy, the organization that launched the statewide petition drive that was held in about two dozen Alaskan communities on the kickoff day.
Jamieson said by the end of the first hour, organizers began to worry they wouldn’t have enough petitions for the 3,000 signatures they estimated they’d get that day.
“We just made a last-minute run to the copy place to get double that (amount),” he said.
Jamieson said later that organizers exceeded their goal by collecting about 3,100 signatures.
The upbeat, even festive, tone of Thursday’s event belied the anxiety that many felt about the $444 million of spending cuts that Dunleavy demanded through his vetoes of more than hundred line items in the Legislature’s operating budget.
“My job is in jeopardy, and a lot of my coworkers,’ ” said Trena Dalton, a former University of Alaska Fairbanks student who now works in UAF Facilities Services. “And we’re all scared.”
“People have families, and they matter,” she added.
Kathleen Meckel is an assistant professor with UAF’s Alaska Native Studies and Rural Development Department. She came to sign a petition out of concern over the impact of the cuts on programs that help Native people in rural and Bush communities.
“I’m from Nulato, and my mom and my family members all live there,” Meckel said. “And we have relatives up and down the Yukon River. So, it’ll be hard on them.”
Carl Andersen is a UAF grad student and adjunct professor who came to the event in a wheelchair he uses since he broke his leg in a car wreck earlier this summer. He, too, came to sign in protest of Dunleavy’s 40 percent cut in state support for the state’s universities. Andersen says that $134 million reduction would in turn damage the state’s overall economy.
“No matter what your fiscal or political leanings are,” he said, “for every one dollar the state spends on the university, five dollars come in.”
Former Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly Member Guy Sattley was known as a fiscal conservative during his seven terms in office. But he too thinks the governor went too far.
“Oh, we have to make some changes,” he said. “I want the university here, I want the research functions here. I want a ferry system. And if it takes reducing our dividend a little bit, that’s fine with me.”
Portia Collette is an emergency room nurse at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital who showed up in her scrubs after getting off her shift.
“I’m really concerned about the cuts to social services in our state,” she said, “and I think it’s going to have a bad effect on services that are vital in our community, like mental health and substance-abuse services.”
Even Santa Claus came to sign a petition. The North Pole City Council member who legally changed his name to reflect the city’s Christmas theme says Dunleavy’s cuts will harm children.
“I believe his policies hurt child health, safety and welfare – hurt their future, hurt the environment,” Claus said.
He suggested the governor’s budget vetoes would probably sour the mood of even the real Saint Nick, adding “I guess Santa’s not supposed to say it, but the vetoes suck!”
According to the Recall Dunleavy website, the campaign must gather signatures from at least 28,501 registered Alaskan voters in order to proceed to the second stage of the recall process: a Superior Court review to ensure legal basis of the recall meets the standards set by state law, followed by another petition drive to collect 71,252 registered voters' signatures, then certification by the Division of Elections.
If the recall meets those standards, the Elections Division would announce a special election to be held within 90 days. If those signatures are certified by the state Division of Elections, the agency could call for a special election that will ask voters whether Governor Michael J. Dunleavy should be recalled from office.
Correction: This story has been revised to correct the number of registered voters that must sign recall petitions, 28,501, and to clarify the two-step process required in order for the state Elections Division to schedule a a recall election.