WASILLA — In the land proclaimed as ‘Dunleavy Country,’ residents of the Mat-Su Valley made pilgrimage to Wasilla Lake to sign the recall petition filed against Gov. Mike Dunleavy.
On Thursday, 387 signatures were gathered in over three hours. The parking lot at Nunley Park remained full for nearly three hours, not with those hoping to enjoy the lake, but voters willing to add their name to the list of Alaskans that want Dunleavy recalled. David Cheezem rode his bike from Palmer to Wasilla just to sign the recall petition.
“I would have ridden to Talkeetna for this,” Cheezem said. “I think it’s important for people in the Valley to say to the rest of the state, not all of us are behind this.”
Within the first nine hours, over 10,000 signatures were gathered statewide. The community of Yakutat gathered signatures from over 30 percent of its residents, and recalldunleavy.org received over $13,000 in small donations within the first 24 hours of launching. The recall effort began shortly after Dunleavy dropped his budget on Feb. 13, according to Chami Krueger who serves as the organizer of the Mat-Su Chapter of Alaskans Take A Stand.
To be certified, 28,501 signatures must be collected and 71,252 signatures must be collected to continue. Krueger said that initially, different groups began forming statewide to focus on removing Dunleavy as governor. Those groups realized the commonality of their goal and met at one table to move forward with the recall effort. Krueger arrived at Wasilla Lake early and began to gather signatures early. While the beginning of the event was scheduled for 4 p.m., Krueger began collecting signatures at 3:30 and stayed for three-and-a half-hours. Krueger had a table set up on the Parks Highway entrance, but was told by Wasilla Police that a permit was required to set up a table. Krueger improvised, putting the table away and moving the collection of clipboards and pens to the trail entrance.
The minor relocation did not deter Krueger or the Alaskans who came to sign the petition. Dwight Probasco said that he signed the petition because as an Alaskan voter, he disagrees with the actions of the state administration. Probasco said that he doesn’t believe Alaska’s government is oversized and that he assessed the cuts to social services and low income residents as a problem.
“The good that’s coming out of this is it’s waking the voters up. We have very low turnout in our votes at the state and local level putting people in office,” said Probasco.
Alaskan voters young, old, and brand new made their way to Wasilla Lake for the recall petition signing. Noel Cotter signed the petition with her daughter Morgan, who turned 18 in June and has not yet had the opportunity to vote. Noel was happy that her frustrated daughter came ti sign the petition.
“People are unhappy with what he’s doing,” said Morgan Cotter.
Former Mat-Su Borough Assemblywoman Betty Vehrs and Craig Stewart stood on the bike path adjacent to the Parks Highway and waved the Alaskan and United States flags, to the delight of honking motorists passing by.
Morgan Cotter planned to attend the University of Alaska Anchorage in the fall, but is uncertain where she will receive her education now. Both those seeking higher education and those providing education to students showed up to sign. Barrie Blackman-Green has served on the Family Promise board for 10 years and works as a teacher. She was already wary of Dunleavy prior to the election, based on what she saw when he was on the Mat-Su Borough School District School Board.
“I had concerns from the beginning that he was not going to be child and family friendly and all of these cuts are affecting elders and children. I have friends whose kids have gotten letters saying you lost your scholarship. It’s too late to go and accept another scholarship at another college because they already gave that away to somebody else, so we’re hurting people that have no recourse,” said Blackman-Green. “I talk to those kids at school all the time. You’ve got to take care of other people as well, It’s your responsibility. We need to work together. We need to be kind and respectful and that’s not what they’re seeing on the state or national level.”
Blackman-Green stood next to her friend, Kim Evans, who earned her degree from the University of Alaska in an unconventional manner. Evans studied at UAA, the University of Alaska Fairbanks and Mat-Su College before completing her degree. Evans wore a UAA volleyball hooded sweatshirt and said that she participated in the goodbye walk at MSC when the budget was released.
“If the Mat-Su College campus closed, I would be crushed. My son went there, my husband graduated from UAA,” Evans said.
Blackman-Green felt that the debate over the size of the PFD was at the expense of Alaska’s education system. Cheezem felt very strongly about the cuts to the UA system, saying that the cuts have not been well planned. Cheezem noted the danger of cuts to UAF research, which he says is a driving factor for the Alaskan economy.
“We can’t live on that [PFD] alone and we can’t live on that at the expense of every other social safety net that there is,” said Blackman-Green. “When the election happened unfortunately people looked at the dividend and that was it.”
Voters from causes far and wide came to sign the petition on Thursday. While many who signed the petition felt strongly about one issue or the other, Krueger believes that the issues affecting Alaskans have united them to remove Dunleavy. Krueger stands by the Alaska Statute’s requirements for recalling a governor of neglect of duties, incompetence and lack of fitness. Krueger believes that Dunleavy violated Alaska Law by refusing to appoint a judge to the Palmer Superior Court within 45 days of receiving a nomination and by authorizing the use of state funds without proper disclosure for partisan purposes. Krueger believes that Dunleavy will be recalled on the legal grounds that he violated the separation of powers by improperly using his line item veto on the judiciary branch and acted incompetently when he mistakenly vetoed $18 million more than he intended to strike.
“I’m not angry, I’m heartbroken. I’m sad that in order for us to come together it has to be this bad. I’m discouraged, but then seeing all of these people come together is encouraging. This isn’t about the PFD, this isn’t about the UA system, this isn’t about the arguments that are being made, what this is about is Dunleavy broke Alaska law and he needs to go,” said Krueger.
Many who signed the recall petition on Thursday work with senior citizens or are senior citizens themselves. Georgia Polowy volunteers at the senior center in Palmer and communicated with the Director of Dunleavy’s Mat-Su Office, Todd Smoldon, about her friend who recently received an eviction notice. Polowy said that Smoldon does not believe there are legal grounds for a recall.
“I’m really concerned about who he’s using for his staff, having Ben Stevens now,” said Polowy. “Sadly the people that he’s hurt are the people that needed it the most.”
Patti Fisher signed the petition after she heard from a friend in Meadow Lakes who cares for her disabled son. Fisher’s friend voted for Dunleavy, but has been extremely disappointed. Lacey Harris was energetic after seeing dozens of people huddled around clipboards in the parking lot.
Harris was happy to see the Chair of Usibelli Coal Mine, Joe Usibelli, as one of the petitioners against Dunleavy. While Harris said that Usibelli may seem to be on the opposite side of the political spectrum, she was encouraged to see him stand up to Dunleavy. Harris chatted with Polly-Beth Odom who is concerned about clients when works with in senior services. Some of Odom’s clients with mental health disabilities fear that they may lose their housing or dental coverage.
“I’m personally affected at my agency in being able to provide the services. I think we can do better,” said Odom. “I think this says that as Alaskans we can come together and say yes, we can support the PFD but we can also support our citizens and we can work together. Alaska is all of us working together. It’s not to be divisive, it’s us coming together and that’s what this is about.”