Watching the recall effort as it has taken form over the past few months has been particularly interesting. We have a governor who has done exactly what he said he was going to do during an election, and voters are now furious because he did it. While that may be clever phraseology, it should not obscure the fact that people are genuinely angry and their concerns should not be dismissed as “just politics.” By the way, the governor would agree with that.
Recognizing the sincerity of an opponent’s concerns is no small thing for politicians under siege. We normally see them go into their bunkers and start firing from the slits at everything that moves. Their battle cry becomes “it’s everyone else’s fault!” That hasn’t been the case in the Dunleavy experience. On the contrary, Dunleavy seems to recognize some of his wounds are self-inflicted and people’s anger with him is heartfelt.
So why put in my 2 cents? Well, while there is a chance the governor will be recalled, there is also a chance he will remain in office for another three years. If that’s the case, we can ill afford to sustain this level of intensity in a battle that may last till 2023. We need to back off the throttle a little and set the bar of political discourse higher than what we’ve seen in recent events. Who can forget the governor standing on stage being booed as he stood next to his wonderful wife? Or again, when aircraft passengers spontaneously broke into a chorus of boos and insults as the captain announced the governor was traveling on a flight — once again in the presence of his wife. Shame on us!
Though I do not write to defend or attack the governor’s actions and policies, I would like to draw attention to some of the positive things he has done in response to people’s concerns.
Clearly, executives are accountable for the people they hire and cannot hide behind them when mistakes are made. Mike has consistently taken responsibility for his administration and, more importantly, he has taken action. It is an agonizing process to replace a team, but good executives know when it must be done. In late summer Governor Dunleavy began assembling a new team that is better equipped to take Alaska in a more positive direction. This team, though still few in number, will be a major improvement for our state. I’m optimistic we will see good things from them.
Dunleavy’s quick outreach to the university is to be commended as well. Immediately after initiating his staff reorganization, Dunleavy flew to Fairbanks to meet with a group of Fairbanksans and university leaders to plan a more stable path forward for the school. Without praising or criticizing the product of that meeting, it is important we recognize the value of his actions in that situation. He acknowledged the potential problems, met with the people best qualified to offer solutions, then went forward with a mutually agreed upon course of action.
Additionally, the governor should be praised for his instincts for smaller government. He intrinsically understands the benefits of downsizing; and while he is not the first ever to cut the budget, he is certainly the cause of the most widespread discussion about it. That’s good and we should keep it up.
I’ve seen administrations go through trouble before and they usually respond in predictable ways: anger and arrogance; or cowardice and capitulation. I don’t see this with Gov. Dunleavy. There is a refreshing absence of arrogance in his approach as demonstrated by his willingness to take his opponents criticism seriously. Likewise, he has not abandoned his beliefs and pathetically wriggled to seek approval. Fortunately, he’s not built that way.
Some thoughts about the recall: The governor does not stand accused of any criminal, moral or ethical breaches, so I’m not sure a recall is the best way to deal with the situation. Additionally, the turmoil created by a recall is destabilizing and ultimately not in our best interests. Ultimately, we face a huge policy dispute, which is probably best resolved through regular elections.
Mike Dunleavy is a decent man who finds himself in the middle of turmoil he had a hand in creating. However, at his core he is an Alaskan who will do what is best for Alaska. I will not judge him exclusively in light of his mistakes but by the grace with which he remedies them.
Pete Kelly is a former state legislator representing Fairbanks, serving first in the House and then in the Senate.