Dunleavy backtracks as rapid recall campaign gains strength

Forget the three-year deal about the University of Alaska budget.

It has no basis legally or politically. It doesn’t exist. It is an attempt by Gov. Mike Dunleavy to distract the public from what he actually did.

The key thing, as the Bradners’ Alaska Legislative Digest notes, is that the governor backtracked and accepted the UA funding level approved by the Legislature for this fiscal year.

After Dunleavy cut the UA budget by $130 million with his veto in June, the Legislature restored $110 million during a special session. Dunleavy says he will accept the legislative decision.

No amount of political cover can conceal this 180.

As recently as three weeks ago, Dunleavy—the guy who promised as a candidate to make no cuts to the university—was bragging about his radical plan to dismantle higher education during this fiscal year. Or perhaps he would cut $88 million this year and $38 million next year.

The usual tools of political persuasion in Alaska could not get him to waver from the course he set in February, standing alongside temporary budget director Donna Arduin, insisting on a 41 percent cut in state funding to UA.

The Legislature and the public refused to accept Dunleavy’s lack of vision, but Dunleavy refused to listen.

Then thousands of people showed up Aug. 1 across the state to begin the recall conversation.

Fearing this instantaneous movement to remove him from office, Dunleavy caved on the UA budget, accepting the action of the Legislature, but tried to disguise this by claiming to have a three-year plan and staging a signing ceremony for a glorified press release. There is no three-year plan.

But as more than one reader has said, much of the damage has already been done. Dunleavy, Arduin and temporary policy director Mike Barnhill have smeared the reputation of the university with a steady string of half-truths and outright lies that have spread nationwide to potential students, faculty members and donors.

The only hope for the recovery of the university, the preservation of K-12 schools, the ferry system and health care for tens of thousands of Alaskans is the single tool of political persuasion that is working—the Dunleavy recall.

Without the recall campaign, I expect that Dunleavy will move ahead this fall with his shortsighted plan to cut K-12 schools by $330 million, which would lead to thousands of layoffs statewide. With the recall campaign, he will have to pause and consider his political survival.

“What we would expect the Legislature to do next year is to pass the university budget, as well as the schools K-12 budget, early in the session,” Mike and Tim Bradner wrote Wednesday. “The governor would then have to exercise his vetoes within 18 days of receiving these appropriation bills, and while the Legislature is still in regular session.”

The Legislature would then have the opportunity and the time necessary to build the three-quarter majority needed to override the Dunleavy vetoes, if they happen, on the UA and K-12, the Bradners conclude.

If an override fails, the Legislature could send a new appropriation bill back to Dunleavy to repeat the attempt.

“This would put an enormous amount of pressure on legislators refusing to override with the impending 2020 elections,” they said.

The Bradner brothers, with vast experience in Alaska politics and journalism, provided the best analysis I’ve seen of Dunleavy’s political retreat.

Cutting UA funding next year or K-12 funding will add more momentum to the recall campaign, which will soon be obvious to Dunleavy, if it’s not already.

The campaign to recall the governor took off faster than anyone expected. Dunleavy ignored the public testimony and emails of thousands of Alaskans who spoke out against his budget, starting in February, but he can’t ignore the tens of thousands trying to remove him from office.

He has invented a story that the budget cuts he announced in February and the vetoes he made to carry them out in June were all part of starting a “conversation” with Alaskans.

"You don't get to this point unless you veto," Dunleavy said Tuesday. “You don’t get the conversations that we’ve had . . . unless you veto.”

Whoever suggested this to Dunleavy as a plausible escape route should be fired.

He backtracked on the university, as well as on the $21 million senior benefits program and four other education programs for young children the Legislature restored after Dunleavy vetoed them in June.

The recall has proven to be the only effective means of capturing Dunleavy’s attention, the start of a statewide conversation that he can’t ignore as easily as public testimony.

If the recall does not continue, Dunleavy may try to move ahead with his plans to cut $330 million from K-12 schools in 2020, his future cuts to the university, his attempt to confiscate hundreds of millions in local tax revenue and his plan to cut hundreds of millions more in health care for the poor.

The Bradners conclude that Dunleavy is a “classic political loner” and the minority members supporting him should remember that to him they are expendable.

“In many respects the governor threw legislators supporting his huge budget cuts under the bus.”

dermotmcole@gmail.com

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