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Unalaskans Gather Signatures For Recall Dunleavy Campaign

Nat Herz/Alaska Public Media

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy is facing a statewide recall, which began last summer. The state allows recall votes if government officials have been shown to be incompetent, unfit for office, neglectful of their duties, or corrupt.

As the Recall Dunleavy campaign ramps up around the state, Unalaskans are pushing for a local effort of their own. Sharon Svarny-Livingston had a simple reason for why she chose to lead Unalaska's Recall Dunleavy effort.

"That's what women in Unalaska do: you take the lead," said Svarny-Livingston. "We found out that nobody was doing the recall in Unalaska when the application was going in, and so we stepped up."

Erin Enlow volunteers with the campaign, and also felt called to the cause. 

"You gotta stand up for what's wrong," said Enlow. "You gotta show up. If nobody else is doing it, you show up."

Both she and Svarny-Livingston were inviting signatures in the Unalaska Public Library. As the head of the Recall Dunleavy effort in Unalaska, Svarny-Livingston must be present for all signatures. She also must collect identifiers like address, driver's license, or social security number. Each signature must be legible, and the booklet cannot get wet. 

The Dunleavy Administration has already faced criticism for massive budget cuts to things like the Alaska Marine Highway System and public education. Those cuts were partly in order to allow for a Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD) payout of more than $3000.  

But regardless of criticism, the recall effort is focused on specific legal charges. Those charges include the Dunleavy administration's cut of more than $300,000 from the Alaska Court System in response to what the governor called "elective" abortions, and the its use of state funds to pay for a Facebook campaign targeting several Republican lawmakers.

In Unalaska, Svarny-Livingston has organized three signature events. Although last week's event was relatively quiet, she said she has high hopes for the community's recall signing.

"For this round we've probably got 53 [signatures]," said Svarny-Livingston. "Last time we gathered probably about 198. You might think it's kind of small, but only about 400 people vote in this town. We're hoping to gather about 450 this time."

The signature gathering is the second phase of a three-part process. For this part, recall organizers need more than 71,000 signatures to advance towards the final step: a special recall election this summer.  

As of Monday, the statewide campaign had gathered more than 21,000 signatures, about 30 percent of what they need. 

Unalaska City Councilmember Shari Coleman signed the petition last weekend.

"I think the points they make in the petition are valid and worthy of taking to the next step," said Coleman. "Because really, it's just one step in the process, and ultimately if they get the signatures it'll still go back to the vote of the people. He won by a large margin."

Coleman said she chose to sign based on what she sees as legal violations by the Dunleavy administration. But she was also present during some key legislative discussions where she felt the administration's behavior was unprofessional.

"I saw him through the whole budgetary process," explained Coleman. "I was in Juneau during that time last year. I was in Anchorage during municipal conferences. And I saw his and his staff's demeanor and their inability and unwillingness to work with the Senate and the House during that time. It was disconcerting that our leader was holding a really hard line, not listening to people, and not really wanting to come out and talk to the civic leaders and to the public."

Svarny-Livingston doesn't have another event planned yet. She's on the hunt for businesses or community spaces to hold more signing events. So far, only the library has agreed to host her. 

"But [the library] is a great place to have it," said Svarny-Livingston. "I don't know how many times they'll allow us to take up the room."

She plans to keep gathering signatures until she hits her target number, 450, or the Recall Dunleavy campaign asks for the booklet back. 

Caroline reported for KUCB in 2020.